Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Bruised Reed's Latest 'Doubles' Release

The Bruised Reed are back with another installment in their "Doubles" series. They've spaced out a pairing of new singles every several months on their bandcamp. This week, they've got a couple fittingly wintry songs for these late January day's/daze.

photo by Erick Buccholz
The quartet is showing their more shoegazy sides on these two new songs, but still imbuing each with their signature composites indie-rock and dream-pop. With "Emptiest Noise," you'll almost feel like you're being carried away, as Kirstin Wheeler's breathy melodies meld in mesmerizing harmony with the swelling tones of the guitar. The tempo is a slow, woozy waltz that gives space for the bass and drums to crash in at these cathartic crescendos.

There's a balanced sense of detached meditation with these distorted reverb blasts, pairing back in the verses for Wheeler's voice to lilt with its tenderness. Her husband, Josh, meanwhile, sounds like he's really upped his game in terms of production: "The Storm Is Coming's" urgency is palpable in the mix when each instrumental element sustains this dazzling surge across a jogging tempo.

This is where Bruised Reed thrive, this uncanny middle ground where aggressive riffs and feedback crest back against the tenderer, sweetly threaded melodies.

The Bruised Reed will be at Kelly's on Fri., Feb 2nd
with Faux Montreux and Werewolves
More info

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Dropout: New Single "Old Parts, New Beginnings"

I've checked in a handful of times with Andrew Ficker's electro-funk/new-wave-jazz jolted project, The Dropout... And he put on quite a show last summer when he appeared on my talk show. ("I only do first takes...") He's keeping busy, as usual, with a new single out today, the title track from a new EP, Old Parts, New Beginnings, (ft. Nydge, his past collaborator in the duo, Nigel & The Dropout).

Old Parts, New Beginnings comes out February 16.

Ficker has always been about the sonic smorgasbord, which is on display here... Subtle elements from a diverse batch of genre-ingredients get stirred together into the wake of propulsive arrangements of aerobic dance beats, celestial synths, atmospheric guitars, and expressively jolted phrases from a nimbly wielded saxophone.

But Ficker has always brought a bit of the anthropological to his song creation process. He's a markedly more avid live music event attendee than others can claim, particularly being drawn to thousands-crowd-sized/acres-wide spanning spectacle music festivals. It's field research, in a way... Ficker has always been attuned to how powerful live music can be, not just for the audience's engagement, but for the performer to find something of a deeper substance inside themselves, or in their existence. Yeah, it can be powerful. That's why he's singing about contemplative, and even urgent, pressurized notions like the present, the future, and what role any of our "potentials" play in successfully bridging the former to the latter...

The saxophone surging into the choruses on this track gives an uplift into the funkier beats of the bridge. The synths make this ghostly flute-like sound, oscillating in tone as curl up and then slink down a scale, giving space in the verses for a shimmer of guitar to pour in over chopping live drums.

There's all these audible intersections between the instruments, where one part comes up to meet the beginning of another, manifested most powerfully around the 1:45 mark, when the saxophone is at it's most declarative. This song, just like another song on the EP ("Potential,") find Ficker in these very contemplative lyrical moments, giving a sense of a singer on some kind of verge or at some kind of turning point, and feeling as though tailed by doubt. But then you make that turn. That next part begins. "It's a better day to step away...." And the wind at your back can take you home....

Stay tuned

Monday, January 15, 2018

Immerse & then Discover! Interview with Steve Greene (New Album Out Jan 26)

Steve Greene's enthusiasm has always been infectious.  There's a charm to his energy as a composer, even just off the stage, the way he talks about synthesized music!  But to see this tall, broad-shouldered metro Detroiter up on stage, an inclined stance over his galaxy of gear, immersed, entranced...something pure visibly illuminated in his aura, like a would-be protagonist from an 80's sci-fi movie, a hero, inspired, venturing forth on his own epic journey.

Greene has been part of the trio known as Voyag3r for several years, but Electronic Dreams for a Holographic Existence is his first proper solo album. Some of Voyag3r's aesthetic, epic and cinematic vibes, valiantly marching/post-industrial percussion, and alien-sounding operatic drones, continues with his new material (which comes out January 26). But dig the single he put out last week: "Machines, Schemes and Manipulations." 

Whereas Voyag3r could conjure the heavy metal realms of rock, Greene's drawing in that jazzy saxophone, a crashing bass hook, a dazzlingly whirled synth melody, and a striding percussive arrangement that you just as easily dance to as slay a demogorgon.

Greene's inspiration comes from the vivid and imaginative worlds of science fiction and horror: be the classic 60's stuff, the grittier or atmospheric 70's, or the neon-streaked styles of the 80's. Be it The Thing or Alien or Robocop or any other kind of story of the fantastic, with unlikely heroes being pitted against bizarre circumstances, that inherent drama and sense of adventure is what fuels the music of Greene. You're encouraged to close your eyes when you listen to this music; to daydream & imagine your own movie! You'll feel like you're being called to the rescue... That you could save some kind of day, here!

I asked Steve all about his past, his process, and his production style.

How did you first get into creating your own electronic music? 
Around 2006, I purchased an Alesis Ion synthesizer and spent a lot of time scrolling through its sounds and tinkering with its many knobs. And I was also getting familiar with Pro Tools and mixing at that time.  I composed a handful of electronic songs using the Ion and the Expand plug-in that came with Pro Tools. I was having a lot of fun exploring the possibilities of this new-to-me world. It was such a refreshing change from the strictly rock environment that I had been in and I welcomed the wave of rejuvenated creativity and this long past or forgotten set of various sorts of inspirations that just came rushing back to me!

What do you enjoy most about composing electronic music? Every time I am writing or recording it’s exciting, but it’s always a treat when I end up on a path that makes me feel like I did when I got my first synthesizer and spent those many hours immersed in it and discovering old and familiar sounds as well as new sonic textures.

What is it like, as an artist, as someone imagining and composing electronic sounds, to see the ways in which humanity has lurched ever further, immersion-wise, into a Blade Runner/Matrix-like existence? Cuz that's the kind of thing the album's title makes me think about... 
To me, that whole concept of our modern technology is the ultimate double edged sword. For all the good, there is also the negative. If we are looking at this myopically, we trade the wonderful access to all of humanity's acquired knowledge and the ability to easily communicate and spread information with the sacrifice of our privacy, eroding of true, meaningful social behavior and probably most dangerous is an increased vulnerability to disinformation.

If we’re zoomed way out, metaphorically speaking, we may be witnessing our great barrier...Or, if we’re zoomed even further out, is any of this real in the first place?

What makes analog instrumentation special to you, and how can it enhance not just a listening experience, but the experience of the creator in the studio?
All the inspiring records that I grew up with had actual musicians playing real instruments. That is always going to be my base line. I want to hear the notes as they were played, not how the computer quantized them. There are always some exceptions, but that is what inspires me and I believe that when any artist is truly inspired that is when true magic happens. Whether that is music or painting or writing a story, I feel that true inspiration comes from a place of honestly, sincerity and some struggle. I enjoy making hard choices in my writing and recording process; committing to sounds on the way into the recording medium, giving myself hard deadlines and hardware gear naturally makes you have to “earn it” way more than software where you can always go back and edit or redo.

The single you put out seems to be retaning some of the darker, more atmospheric vibes that you had from the film soundtrack you did last year. And it diverges, sorta, from the vibes of Voyag3r... What are some other ways these songs distinguish themselves from anything else you've done?
Voyag3r is definitely a rock band, so I think it will usually be heavier and more aggressive. That being said, I try not to set up restraints or rules for any of the music I do. Electronic Dreams For A Holographic Existence is one snapshot in time that has a certain attitude and color. I hope to capture another unique vibe next time out.

So, rock band singers get to vocalize and project to an audience: guitarists can glance up from their solo and look out at the crowd... but you are often, like, head-down, grinding away, almost in a trance! And the music itself is comparative more trancey than most local bands who might be giving an audience something like a power-pop experience. So, then, what is it that YOU enjoy most about performing works like Holographic Existence for a live setting? Or, what are you looking forward to most about possibly performing these in the near future?
As much as writing and recording, I’ve always loved performing music live. I love to go to concerts and I love to play concerts.When I am performing, either Voyag3r songs or my solo material, there are really two performances happening at the same time. The first is the more obvious one, the playing of the actual notes and chords, usually on multiple synthesizers. The second is the tweaking or changing of sounds, usually while simultaneously performing the music, on-the-fly continual volume mixing and foot dancing on sustain or volume or effects pedals.

It's a lot o' gear to keep your eyes on...

It’s quite an undertaking, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. A reoccurring response that I hear after shows is that the listner sorta “spaced out” during the concert and either visualized movie scenes they love or just made up visuals in their head that the music fed them. That seems A-OK to me!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Seth Bernard: "The Arts Have a Way of Bringing People Together"

Lake City singer/songwriter Seth Bernard is very in tune. But beyond his music, Bernard is very much in tune with humanity, in tune with nature, in tune with social justice, but also in tune with having fun. His newest album, EggtonesFor Fun, is a sprightly composite of folk-pop and Americana, with minstrel waltzes, gypsy jazz and ragtime, and he’ll be performing some of those songs Friday night in Hamtramck. This is a sunnier contrast to last year’s Eggtones Blues, a comparatively more austere and atmospheric collection of electronica and folk, with Bernard’s dulcet tones threading sweet melodies that delivered urgent calls for peace, as well as urgent calls to action.

Bernard is a one of the most prominent and hard-working voices in the Michigan folk music community, as an activist for social justice issues like freshwater rights, primarily for citizens of Flint, or concerns over Enbridge’s Line 5 transporting oil under the Straits of Mackinac. 

This article originally featured in the Detroit Free Press.

When Bernard is not on a stage singing songs, he is working with a multitude of community organizers, nonprofits, and other artists all over Michigan to, more than anything else, educate and inspire.  Hundreds of musicians and thousands of music fans and activists gather each autumn at Earthwork Farm for a festival Bernard started called the Harvest Gathering. He releases his music on his own label, naturally called Earthwork Music.

Bernard, 37, was raised on his parents’ farm, known as Earthwork’s Farm. He spoke to the Free Press about how that upbringing shaped his outlook on life and ignited an evidently eternal flame of compassion in him, a compassion and a reverence for people, for the environment, for animals, for traditions, and for progress; a compassion that’s felt almost instantly when you hear one of his songs (often featuring spoken-word samples from activists like Bill McKibben or the late Grace Lee Boggs).

Next month, Bernard will be getting deeply involved with water rights when he hosts a panel discussion at the SXSW media/music festival in Austin, on March 10, at the Michigan House venue. He’ll be launching a new multifaceted project soon, a year-long social movement that will find several ways and mediums to spread awareness about clean water issues around Michigan.
Bernard talks about wearing several different hats: activist, humanitarian, father, and of course, musician. 

What were some formative experiences that set you on a path towards heightened activism through music and community organizing?
Well, one thing is that I started a free event called The Water Festival as a young adult, and it was aimed at community building and to sort of be this celebratory call to action. I wanted to see if we could create bigger onramps for people to learn about and get involved with things like local watershed stewardship and hopefully join the response to the global fresh water crisis, and using the arts and music as a way to bring people together. It was an extremely positive experience. And I saw that it was refreshing to people to have an arts event aimed at social change that didn’t have a sense of anger or divisiveness built into it. So it’s about our time and our place, being in Michigan and united by something like fresh water, that can unite us in our identity. 

And I think that (events like The Water Festival or the Earthwork Harvest Gathering) can bring people in and develop a sense of becoming problem solvers, and show them that they can respond to the times that we live in in a way that’s a little more localized.

What is the Harvest Gathering festival and how did it get started?
I put together the Harvest Gathering in August of 2001 when I released my first album; it was the beginning of Earthwork Music. And it was about recognizing food and music as these catalysts to bring people together, and then have that coming together be a catalyst to create social change. It’s started out super small, but it’s grown: we had 3,600 people come last year, with 125 bands!  It harkened back to traditions of farmers coming together as a community during a harvest time, and so you had traditional forms of music, like folk music, primarily, but it’s much broader, now, in terms of the musical genres represented. Hopefully we can have more cultural exchanges (at Harvest Gathering), between different communities; we have a lot to learn from Detroit up here. And the older I’ve gotten, the more I see that people’s environmental focus in the north might not be equally relevant to what’s happening elsewhere for Michiganders. So (Harvest Gathering) can be important in that it connects our struggles and connects our (advocacy) work.

You released a new album last week. What can you tell us about EggtonesFor Fun and how it fits in your current Eggtonesseries?
The Eggtonesalbum series has four parts: I started with EggtonesFor Peace, then last year I released Eggtones Blues, now I have Eggtones For Fun, and it concludes with Eggtones for Directions. I like having expressions that are a bit mysterious, or mystical-sounding, so that it can be subjective to whoever hears it to interpret the meaning for themselves; for me it just invokes a sense of possibility. Possibility! Because we have to be writing a new story in these times, where we see an encroachment of end times ideology and that is not a good enough story for our kids, for the youth. I know that, now, with having a 3-year-old daughter who reminds me to be in touch with joy and to be in touch with love. And I want to pay that forward and pass the torch. And so, EggtonesFor Fun, is seeing people everywhere engaged in a lot of serious struggle, and giving them access to joy, and to “fun.” That sense of possibility can be more alive in us if we’re having fun with what we’re doing and feeling inspired and passionate.

As someone who blends art with activism, what is your musical creation process like?
My creative process is extremely regenerative. I feel healthy when I’m feeling creative. I’m more able to express my experiences and emotions, and to navigate my place in the world, through music. And it’s an endless pursuit, really, of finding new pathways of expression. And it’s important to just keep after it, keep working. And I always try to lift up other artists, and to consistently show love to other artists. (Songwriter) Mark Lavengood and I are hosting a “Michigan Room” at Folk Alliance International in Kansas City this February and it’s all about getting Michigan artists onto an international stage, because you and I know there’s just such a treasure trove of music here, such a rich and dense place for artists to dig deep into their process and be supported by their peers. (Songwriting/music) can come easily for me sometimes just because I am so excited about so many other artists, here.

After such a divisive and tense year, how do you, as an artist and activist, stay hopeful and motivated?
It really comes down to having a lot of love for people. Having grown up in a way where my parents were so embedded in our community (Lake City), growing up on a farm and living off the land, but also living with a very close-knit relationship with our neighbors, I realized early on that we were a bit more “alternative” relative to most of rural northern Michigan, but I saw just how my parents had a love for people, and a love for kids and doing lots of hands-on projects with kids and working with local schools. So naturally that passed on to me. The arts have a way of bringing people together so intrinsically, and they can also be a platform for talking about things in a way that is engaging, in a way that can build community. 

It’s been a tough year, but I see people, and I see musicians, really digging deeper into their craft, more than ever before, and activate that solace and that respite that drew us all to music in the first place.

20 Front Street (Venue)
20 E. Front St., Lake Orion (Address)

Friday, January 12, 2018

Rottinghouse: Intentionally Cold & Minimal, But It Still Has To Be Beautiful

Album Release Party
Sat., Feb 3
@ Trixie's Bar
featuring Siamese, Krillin, and Space Skull

Singer/songwriter Jaye Thomas started this dark wave project back in 2014, when a batch of songs he was working on strayed from the aesthetic of Rogue Satellites, his collaboration with singer/songwriter/artist Lisa Poszywak. But as we'll illuminate in this interview, Thomas' alter ego, Rottinghouse, became a multimedia collaboration with musician/artist Courtney Spivak (of Ex American). Spivak uses lighting, costumes, make up, props, and found footage video projection to create a fittingly transportive visual experience.

The Feb 3 show at Trixie's will be a music video premiere for the single "Whatever Helps You Sleep At The Wheel." Spivak, meanwhile, produced several videos to expand and augment the experience of each song. Check out her work for the Rottinghouse song "Soft Satellites"


Just because something dreamy has degrees of dread does not make it a nightmare. The imbittered can reveal sweetened qualities. Something electronic can profoundly connect to the soul. In a literal sense, the percussive arrangements of Rottinghouse can evoke a sense of transportation, but when you experience the music, or especially when you encounter it as a live creation, it can be like being a somewhat strange place that may often eerily resemble what we'd already perceived to be our real world; made to feel cold, albeit, only perhaps because its lyrics are designed on erasing illusions, or excavating the harder truths we try to bury.

Call it post-apocalyptic pop, or gloom-wave, or maybe lullabies for permanent midnights. Rottinghouse will thread indelible melodies into your ears, sung over stimulating, propulsive dance beats and sleek synth hooks. Minor keys may dominate, the bridge of certain songs could accumulate droning clouds, and you won't hear your vocalist hit any capricious falsettos...but still, it pulls you in... It transports... Or is it more that it transforms? The performer manifests in a suit & tie, or in all black, with a glittery golden veneer over his skull; eyes glowing, voice humming... It goes beyond the typical live music experience.

So Rottinghouse songs were, initially, tunes you were working on that just wasn't fitting with Rogue Satellites. What distinguished them?
If I take out the aspects that I think characterize a (Rogue Satellites) song, what's left is this sort of sparse cold wave song.

And what draws you to  'cold wave?'

Thomas: Cold wave is a genre I've always been interested in.  It speaks to a certain part of my personality. The visual aesthetic doesn't come from me. It comes from my partner in Rottinghouse, Courtney Spivak. I really thought the stuff she did for her own band was amazing so I approached her about working on this project with me.

There's always been a dark side to your songs...
Yes, I think Rogue tends to weave in a sort of dark humor within the exuberant framework of a rock n' roll song.  While with Rottinghouse, that darkness is right out front. The process has been very subtractive. Taking away that tendency to be sort of playful with the music has left me with this sort of sparse open thing. It's intentionally cold and minimal but it still has to be beautiful.

What have been some primary musical influences for you?
The Cure has been one of my favorite bands since I was in the 8th grade. The Pornography album specifically was a huge influence to the development of (Rottinghouse') sound. Joy Division was a band I became interested in later, but they are probably equally influential to me now.

So that goes back to post-punk, new wave, goth, glam... What about 'cold wave?'
There are a bunch of contemporary cold wave bands that are making great music currently, or even very recently... Some of my favorites are Soviet Soviet, Skeleton Hands from Cincinnati, and Detroit's 800beloved. Contemporaries were very important because they made me see that people might actually want to listen if I made this music. Because it's very self-indulgent, this type of music... It's like, "I feel like shit, let me tell you about it. You care because..."...It's affirming to think people can still take something positive from it.

What did you take from the songs on Patient Passenger? What was the experience like, for you, to get these songs completed? 
Thomas:  Those songs all deal with separation and isolation in different ways. Some deal with depression, fear, and anxiety but those things are isolating too.  The name Patient Passenger was lifted directly from the lyrics of one of the songs, "Whatever Helps You Sleep at the Wheel," but I thought it spoke to the overall theme of the record. Stepping back when the writing and programming were all done, it seemed like this album was about feeling disconnected in the so-called age of connectivity.

Thomas has already started writing a new Rottinghouse album that will be more guitar oriented, and "...a little more aggressive."

Rogue Satellites, meanwhile, will have a busy 2018: they have two volumes' worth of new music they just recorded.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

River Spirit's New EP Sets Souls Alight

River Spirit's new EP is available digitally this Friday, Jan 5
Physical copies will be at their next show: Friday, Jan 12  @ Third Wave Music

River Spirit's sound is something tender, and yet has commanding presence. Minimalist neo-soul odes carried by powerful lead vocals over composites of electronica/R&B, interlaced with swooning atmospheric guitars and these subtly entrancing percussive patterns. I've been in a room during three live performances by this Detroit trio and each time my memory of several other details of those nights, be it the white noise of loud bar side conversations or even sometimes other bands on the bill, fade in comparison to this rare and understated radiance that the players and their music, a bare bones electro-soul that bares all, emotionally, brought to life on stage. And that's brought to life here....

"You can open doors with your eyes shut / Don't you realize you are one of a kind?"

How many of us are deficient in crucial vitamins of affection and tenderness? I'm not even talking about how winter is a cold, darker, unpredictable season where lots of us turn into hermits and start to go through intimacy-withdrawals, but even on the grander scale of allowing our human interactions to be digitally quarantined to the ethereal commons of the Internet?

Singer/guitarist Vanessa Reynolds, guitarist/vocalist  Dan Steadman and drummer Paul Wilcox were working on these songs during what was a tough year for so many to stormily sail through, and the poetry of the lyrics embrace the innocence of therapeutic expressions of intimacy, even in the face of how hard it is to feel substantive warmth or bliss in this hustled, divided, and sometimes disenchanting world we're all working our way through.

There are individual moments of breathtaking elegance, like the vocals through the bridge of "Dime," or when the guitars and drums take over for the closing instrumental verses of "Winter Song," creating a calmness after what opens with a seemingly restless melody. "Set Alight" is a standout both musically and lyrically; a meditative round of guitars over pulsing sequenced beats as Reynolds' voice soars softly into expressions that bring a relief to weariness.

These are the songs you need to hear, right now. Healing songs. But also fortifying for the soul.

Find the album on River Spirit's Soundcloud page, this Friday...
Here is an earlier version of "Winter Song"

The EP was produced by Scott Murphy, with contributions from Augusta Rose, Jova Lynne, and Leander Johnson. You can see River Spirit next Friday at Third Wave Music--more info

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Copper Thieves - 333 & 1/3

Copper Thieves are releasing a new album this month. And even though it's been almost 8 years since their most recent release, it sounds like they haven't missed a beat, picking up right where they left off with their blend of gritty 90's lo-fi rock and whiz-bang power-pop hooks! And they're going big with this one, having already edited together some old footage and posted a batch of music videos for all 10 songs on 333 & 1/3. 

Christian Doble and John Nelson are on guitars & vocals, with Andy Roy on drums. The trio of longtime friends had each already substantially cut their teeth in the rock scene with previous bands like New Grenada, Kiddo, FAWNN, Destroy This Place, and a few others.

You know how you can win a game of H-O-R-S-E when you're just relaxed? Sinking three pointers with clarity, calm, and focus? Part of why Copper Thieves can make this instantaneously catchy composite of skatery-surfy riff-rock (something like the best strands of Superchucnk, GBV, Ted Leo & Weezer all woven into one new dynamic DNA), is that there's a comfortable chemistry uncommon to most bands. These guys have known each other for so long, but they've also been playing music together, honing that unspoken harmony of performance and ideation desired by any band.

And thus, Copper Thieves are untethered from the pressures of branding one sound or pushing one style or fusing to one specific aesthetic. The checklist includes: Guitars. Harmonies. Propulsive drums. Melodies threading through the distortion. Earnest lyrics. energy. Not that it's all as simple as that... But there is a definite relatability to a track like "Deserve It...," with its breezy cascade of riffs and that strutting beat..., like it's a close friend just shuffling up to you in the crowd, rather than an overly-festooned hipster science project designed to overwhelm you with chic audacity.

Clarity rock! Post-angst indie! Coolly composed power-pop... Props to Dave Lawson's audio engineering, with mastering by Carl Saff.
Let's add it to the list of 2017 releases!
More info

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Zelda and The Unibrows

"I want this to be a happy tape..."

It's not every week that I get to write about a band that none of my regular readers have ever seen, and share some songs where they're performing with a WSU Orchestra and vintage cassette players in a live Skype session beamed directly to the Netherlands.... In fact, I've never gotten to write about that...

And I only say you haven't seen this band, Zelda and The Unibrows, because it has always been designed to be a recording project. It is rare, if ever, that they perform "live" in the traditional sense, as it would otherwise be with most bands I've covered.

Detroit-based audio wizards & song creators Joseph Krause and Paul Szewczyk started this band when they were teenagers in the 1990's. As it's evolved, it's stylistic shape has become amorphous, free of any tether to a specific genre, mood, or theme. The four songs on the EP that they released last week span a wide gamut of aesthetics and emotion: austere, absurd, sublime, surreal, jangly, orchestral...

The EP's title, Museum TV Station, gets its name from a project that Netherlands-based artist Lado Darakhvelidze coordinated several yeasr ago, where he was inviting various musical groups from around the world to perform live over Skype, and then have those songs shared with a new and unique audience hosted inside galleries throughout Europe.

The track streaming above was recorded in 2012, and features a regular Zelda-collaborator, Jeff Jimison. After Zelda's initial collaborations for Museum TV Station, Krause put the word out during an Open Mic at Thistle Coffee that he was eager to invite someone else into the Zelda fold for their next MTS round, and Indervir Singh, who was, at that time, just graduating from the WSU music program, said he considered this collaboration with Zelda to be a exciting opportunity for a conducting/arranging exercise for a small symphony of mostly students and volunteer players.

And there you have it....

"I Like Food" is a jaunty march coiled with surfy Morricone-esque guitars; a bit like a Frank Zappa Saturday Morning Cartoon commercial. "Blissful Cessation" has a swaying groove to it, easily the catchiest tune of the four, what with those hand-claps and that violin sweetening the jangly guitar and vocals.

"Pluffart" blossoms open like a sleepy, stretching cloud; the instruments kinda bustle together in a disjointed harmony, with xylophones, pianos and strings leading the way, until a declarative clarinet blurts cheerily over the top. Krause and Jimison give a theatrical reading to a strange bit of dialogue that Krause found on a random cassette he bought from a thrift store several years ago. And then there's "Recordare," Szewczyk's poignant requiem-mass-inspired composition, with an impressive arrangement by Singh. The EP's final song is, as Krause said, "...perhaps the  most serious that a band called 'Zelda and The Unibrows' has ever sounded..."

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

DD White Homecoming Show

DD White may be based mainly in New York, now, but Michigan will forever be their home! At least it's the original home of Tiffany Doodle Wiesend, Collin Stanley, and Chris Agar, the group's singer, guitarist, and bassist. Drummer Zach Simao may not be a Michgander, but I'm still gonna claim this band for the Mitten! Besides, DD White's sound fits in so well with fellow power-pop stylists here in town, such as Brother Hollow, who happen to be joining DD White this Friday night at Ant Hall for this ostensible "homecoming" show. 

The key ingredient to DD White is fun. Every song snaps, every song has soul, every song has a groove to it... The hooks are indelible, the drums can hit so hard, and the vocals can soar. It's a composite of several indie-rock strains, lots of which incline towards tight and terrifically melodic pop. But fun, the inclination towards an ebullient 3 minute song that sutures an audience right into the celebratory vibe and engages them..., that's always evident to be their sole agenda.

It's getting easier to stay indoors with the weather getting colder, not to mention all of our devices, streaming services and various creature comforts. DD White, just like Brother Hollow, present themselves with the necessary high energy needed to relocate that enthusiasm we all once had (and can feel again) for a live music performance. That, and, you know you're going to be inundated with concert invitations on New Year's Eve, so why not treat yourself to a more focused evening of local music inside a spacious venue. No pressure. Just fun.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

What They Grow Beyond: An Appreciation of The Last Jedi and Consideration of "A New Purpose" for the Star Wars series

I had too many thoughts swirling through  my head after watching The Last Jedi in theaters last weekend. I found out the same was true for Jesse Shepherd-Bates (JSB Productions/Handgrenades). 

Below is a verbatim conversation we had, and it's filled with SPOILERS. It actually might not spoil too much, but it is intended for readers who have already seen the film. 

We explore some interesting topics, such as Star Wars in the Internet age, how we each relate to this pop culture odyssey, and the compelling narrative shifts in this latest installment and what it implies not just for the next film, but its reformation of how we regard the previous seven films. 

I think we need to talk about what is most compelling about The Last Jedi. Namely, how it depicts the certain growing pains of generational change. And how this Star Wars installment can be a, for the first time in  my viewing memory, a substantive meditation on what a "hero" or a "legend" is....? And to find out that they are fallible? That's compelling. 

But truly, I don't know where to start! I suppose the best place to start is Luke. And to consider what it's like being in his shoes. (Or in his Jedi Robes). And not to imagine ourselves, as some sort of hero-worship, being Luke while he's a heroic Jedi Knight taking down two Death Stars, but rather, when he is older, encountering doubt, encountering a nuanced kind of fear in the face of an evidently very troubled/dark pupil. What did the "Jedi" ever mean to young Luke anyway?? Poor guy never knew who he was, when you think about it. The second he found his footing, Darth Vader up and tells him HE'S his father. Mind f*ck.


I think it's crucial that Luke reveals to Rey that it was his discovery of Ben Solo's force prowess that first led to him consider starting the Jedi training temple, and not the other way around. There are shades of Obi Wan taking Anakin on there.

So Luke and the Rebellion defeat the Empire (sort of?), at the end of ROTJ. Then what?? What's his calling, then? He's already the Last Jedi at that ending moment of the original trilogy, with nothing but ghosts to train him.

Luke talks a lot about his hubris and lack of judgement in training Ben Solo, as well as his shame in nearly killing Ben in his sleep upon the realization that the dark side had taken hold of him. So, following that, Luke runs off to Ach-To out of a fear that he will do more harm than good in the fights to come.

And another thing I found compelling was this consideration that the Force could or should be something elemental that anyone can potentially access, (like transcendental meditation?). That Rey represents a shift in perceptions regarding The Force, that it can be something benevolent, rather than it being privatised in a way as an exclusive resource by two Sides that are constantly manipulating it to serve their agendas. (Jedi/Sith). Maybe there's disturbances in the force BECAUSE of the Jedi?
Maybe the "balance" means getting beyond Jedi and Sith

That sort of leads me to something pretty awesome about The Last Jedi, that Rey is NOT Star Wars royalty, or part of a lineage. She's not a Skywalker or Kenobi, or Palpatine or Windu. She's a nobody. That's awesome. And, honestly, it makes a lot more sense than the universe revolving around the Skywalker bloodline.

There's been this focus on the Force being somewhat hereditary, (Anakin/Luke/Leia/Ben Solo), but that's pretty strange considering the traditional Jedi policy is no procreation.

Exactly. But let's not get into midichlorians!


Chirrut, from Roge One, introduced the idea of The Force being more inclusive or accessible. 

"I am one with the Force..." Right. I think there is such a thing as being "Force sensitive." I feel like that's the "awakening" that Snoke spoke of in Episode VII.

So Luke is in tune with the Force, and recognizes it belongs to everyone, but yet, he has closed himself off from it. A great scene - when he begins to let the Force back in, he and Leia immediately re-establish their connection.
And speaking of Leia...

She connects to Kylo from the bridge

Yes, and I think the "Leia In Space" scene implies that she has been honing her own Force abilities, maybe undercover, the previous 40 years.

Agreed. But maybe only, or more so, for knowledge, or something even  more soulful. Not for attack or exploitation. She's been charging her batteries.

Yeah. And she doesn't dedicate her life to the Jedia "way." But you see that she senses Han dying in Episode VII, and yes connects to Kylo, and later connects with Luke and senses him dying.

The Jedi Way! I found it interesting that Luke, when you step back and consider it all, is this orphan of the Jedi Order. And if he's forced to be honest, it likely means nothing to him. Or could never mean as much to him as it would Obi-Wan. He's lying to himself if he thought otherwise.

I realized, soon after Force Awakens, how consequential the 8th installment would be. I intuited even then that this would  be a chapter that would finally see the components of the Skywalker-era Saga step off the stage!  And I knew there would be NO way to do that, in the dramatic narrative, that WOULND'T wind up being provocative or shocking or upsetting. I'm sorry we all just can't get in a boat with Gandalf and sail off into the sunset of the Undying Lands. (yawn!) I'm sorry this isn't a Marvel movie where no main character gets hurt or dies in their big fights. But I don't want to get off on that tangent, yet....

I feel refreshed, as though I've had a surgical excision from my tendons to the past trilogy. I was simultaneously able to access my inner child for this film, and then say goodbye to its zealous hangups.

I think it's important to remember, as reactions from our contemporaries pour in, that you and I were encountering those first three films when we were "old enough" to watch them... in 1988, 89, 90.... Which was very much after the fact. Very much to the point where our parents or our older siblings would sit us down before sliding in the VHS tape and ostensibly TELL US that we were about to watch something that was immeasurably important to cinematic culture, something fun, something cerebral, something spectacular... And that goes for many of our contemporaries, who came to IV, V, VI with this preface of expecting greatness. 

And so, cut to later, our first "theater going" experience is, much to our misfortune... Phantom Menace? And by the time the credits rolled on the atrocious Attack of the Clones, I think so many of us were disenchanted, cynical. (Even Revenge of the Sith still has a lot of problems and clunkiness, despite its almost-makes-up-for-it-awesome-lightsaber-fight).

And so I think, in a way, many of us were already at, or dangerously close to being just where Luke was, mentality-wise, in Last Jedi. The Jedi did feel dead to us. Star Wars seemed like something we could walk away from, and we'd closed ourselves off from feeling that magic and whimsy we once felt (ie, the Force).

The Force Awakens, if anyone wants to be as stern with it as they're being with Last Jedi, is a bald-faced reactivation of A New Hope's arc (and literally recreates not just a Death Star, but a an X-wing trench run,  an Obi-Wan stand-in elder guide figure, and more).  The Prequels and the Force Awakens didn't offer anything that challenged the Star Wars status quo! That the Last Jedi can activate so much contemplation in you and I is only one aspect of its qualities.

Next, I wanna get deeper into the implications of disseminating the Force. And especially how telling it is that Yoda is at a place where he's telling Luke: Yeah, burn this mother down.
Also to be addressed. Ben Solo.

I want to, first, respond with something YOUR response triggered, before jumping back into the story... When we reflect on who we were when we saw IV-VI, I-III, and Now VII and beyond.
Whether folks first saw the original trilogy when they first came out, or when we did, on VHS most likely, we were children then. And on top of that - pre-internet children!! So we are living in the ultimate Meta age. It's almost impossible for any series with any semblance of mystery - Lost, Game of Thrones, Westworld, Star Wars - to escape the clutches of spoilers and theorizers...
So when you see a film, or a new episode of a popular TV show, you come in with all this baggage. When we were kids, Star Wars basically tapped into our deepest imagination

it was the ultimate, in that regard

The fact that the prequels were just fleshing out a story we already knew limited the excitement we could have

Right. It was just sleepwalking through a 6 hour movie.
It was "how" rather than "what"  "will happen?"

But now we're grown up, with hundreds of (redacted) Star Wars stories in book, comic, and videogame form that have expanded the universe in our imaginations
So we have the expectations of the child within, with the perceptions of hardened adults...when it comes to viewing a Star Wars movies.

A quote I found from Rian Johnson: "every fan has a list of stuff they want a Star Wars movie to be and they don’t want a Star Wars movie to be." And to go back to what you said... I worry that the internet kills inner children...that's one of the things its good at...

Yes, it absolutely does. The Force Awakens' biggest strength was appealing to the familiar, and stoking our childhood memories, while SETTING THE STAGE for a new story

Truly. JJ Abrams opened doors, rather than shining a light down any hallway. So The Last Jedi was inevitably going to be new terrain. To expect that it wasn't is shortsighted

Correct. And if you want to just see a rehashed, souped up original trilogy, Lucas made plenty of special editions!
Also - quick Snoke point, out of left field: did we have any idea who the fuck the Emperor was before the prequels came out? Did it matter?

We had no idea. He appears in Empire. Not even mentioned in New Hope.

In a New Hope we saw Vader as the baddest motherfucker in the galaxy. What made The Emperor so scary was that Vader kneeled to him. But it didn't matter who he was

And he doesn't even get exposition in Jedi. He's just presented as superior. Like, go with it!

Exactly. So Snoke is a dark side wielding Supreme Leader that has not only orchestrated the return of the Empire, or something like the Empire, and snuffed out the New Republic that has barely begun, but also fucked Luke up by stealing his apprentice! Do we need every detail of how that happened spelled out? Do we need that with EVERY character?

We're going to get a young Han Solo - do we need that?
Do we need a Baby Yoda movie?
Should the first third of Episode 9 be flashbacks to General Hux's first communion?

Anyway - the dark side is taking hold of me. Back to appreciating the movie!

Fair points. I think you're right: I think folks forget how much from the original trilogy wasn't explained or spelled out. Lando's just this guy Han used to know. Go with it!  There was lots of "just go with it" moments in that trilogy. We gained exposition later from books or toys. But we can't let ourselves do that, to suspend that over-analytical side, when we watch films anymore, I supose
Back to Yoda and Luke...

Luke seems to be dealing with this guilt over failing, not just Ben, but failing "as a master"

Unlearn what you have learned! 
I think the Yoda and Luke scene is the the key to the whole movie. Maybe the whole trilogy - time will tell.

Right! And I think Yoda has some insight as to what makes a master, or whether or not this cosmic power needs authoritative masters

Tarkin tells Vader that "you my friend are all that's left of that left of their religion..."
At that point in the timeline, Yoda is hermitting away on dagobah and probably doing some massive soul-searching meditation and coming to the conclusion that the Jedi's downfall was that it tried to dogmatize the force

And that scene you're refrencing in Last Jedi, Yoda comes in to calm Luke... Because despite his gray hair, Luke is still young in this sense that he might not know exactly what the future of the Jedi should be.... That's a ton of fucking pressure to hold, for him, post-ROTJ.

Side note: another reason this is one of the series' most superior film IS BECAUSE it has stirred so much debate! You walked out of Force Awakens saying: "Wow. Whee. That was fun. That was cool. JJ didn't screw it up. Kylo's kinda emo. Sad Han died..."...... that's. it. !

Yes. But here's a question about Yoda: Did he know Rey took the Jedi books? Did he blow up the tree knowing the effect it would have on Luke, while still assured in knowing the traditions of the Jedi were safe with the heir apparent? I love Yoda's line about failure being the greatest teacher. Talk about being meta (cough, prequels, cough)!

That's a great question. We have to presume he "knows" because he has such a powerful intuition and sense. But then again, it's more compelling if Yoda lit it up with intentions for a true purge.

I loved some of the middle section, too, by the way. With Finn and Rose. Because it opened up our gaze to the ways in which the greater galaxy might view this "war" with apathy.... encountering these rich, apathetic financiers who are selling to the highest bidder without any morality or stake in "causes."

And then, for me, another welcomed twist... In any other Star Wars movie, Benicio Del Toro's character would have been maybe a Lando type figure who is shifty at first, but joins the cause and comes out to help them with a big assist...

But anyway….
I think we should move toward a conclusion and especially move away from concerning ourselves with whether anyone else is as tapped into this as we are, or why anyone else has qualms about it.
 I think we can say that much of the reason one half of fans will love it and the others will not is BECAUSE it comes so late in the evolution of Star Wars' pop culture dominance. As media (Internet, primarily) spread, so did this visibility of fan conventions. I was a card-carrying member, in 1994, of the Star Wars Insider fan club! But the geeks have inherited the earth, in a way, because Comic Con is no longer a punchline (as it might have been in the late 80's), and now you see iconography that was originally perceived as specifically reserved for kids and teens (comic book characters, Jedi,) dominating, and I mean dominating, the pop culture conversations -as well as the box office returns! 

So, as Johnson said, Star Wars MEANS SO MUCH or means very specific things to each individual. Forty years. Eight films, not counting this one. Countless comic books, cartoon-spinoffs, expanded universe novels, toys.... TOYS!!!! This film was surfing at the crest of a freaking tidal wave. And on the shore, sits 1 billion judges who want to see if it sticks the landing, based on their specific criteria.
So that leads to the concluding question of, do you need to enter this film with your own criteria? Should you enter any film with criteria?

This film defies the formula of ending Star Wars movies with a big, fast, loud space battle. The Crait battle has such desperation, melancholy, and panic to it... It is definitely not valiant. And it is just a stalling towards an escape. It also puts its extended lightsaber fight at just past the halfway point of the film. And so you are left with this comparatively quieter and admittedly gloomy wind-down toward your/our hero, Luke Skywalker, facing his destiny. With a sense for good over evil, but with an elder wisdom of his own faults, with a guilt of failing this ravenous young man lost to the dark side, and with a heartbreaking wistfulness (also combined with guilt) over returning to his sister and combining an apology with a goodbye, but also with an assurance. I may be gone, but the spark spreads.

We are what they grow beyond... as Yoda says. Should an advancing generation stay tied to the past, or should it work its own plan, its own ideals, with, albeit, reverence and discretion, toward a progressive peace (in a galaxy, a world, a community, what have you). Rey observes Luke's passing as something not in sadness or pain.... but with peace and purpose. So just as Episode IV was called A New Hope. Perhaps the sentiment for Episode IX is just that: A New Purpose.....! 

I think overall, The Last Jedi does more for the Star Wars series than any 8th installment could hope for.  It didn't just upend our expectations for the sake of doing so: it expanded what the Force is (i.e., accessible to everyone), it demonstrated what can be done with the Force (as with the connection between Rey and Kylo that exists even after Snoke dies), and then knocked down the monarchy of the series. As much as Luke Skywalker is the hero of the original trilogy, heroes grow old. The movie also balanced the fun of a space opera made for kids both young and old, with some really heavy issues that ring true with the 2017 we've all been subjected to.

Until I can see it again, we'll leave it at that...
May the Force Be With You, Jesse 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Zander Michigan - Kitchen Sink # 1

Zander Michigan's Kitchen Sink # 1
EP Release - Dec 28th
@ the Loving Touch

Joe Jaber and The Last Divide
Greg Blucher and his band (Greg Blucher Music)
The Red Rocks (reunion)

Zander Michigan's been on a journey of discovery these last four years. He's been discovering what folk music means in this modern, mobile, music-streaming era. As his voice and style have taken shape, it's evident he's finding out what folk means to him; what it mean to an audience...

This journey has taken him from a debut of strumy, Dyaln-esque raspy folk, to an indie-pop informed kind of Americana-rock. And now we have something that can blend both of those, while especially threading a batch of his most indelible melodies and catchy choruses. With Kitchen Sink # 1, it's evident that he's tapped into how important a heartfelt earnestness can be in affecting that musical experience, that relatable "folk" experience.

There's a new kind of warmth to the instrumentation and vocals on these four new Zander songs, as well as a soothing cadence to the arrangements. It's upbeat vibe may be indicative of a lyricist tapping back in to the things that matter most, the things we may too often let slip through our considerations in the midst of a digital life blurred by cascading social media updates. Worn down and disenchanted with the drone of white noise on the Internet, Zander took himself off line for a few months to do a bit of soulful regrouping. Tellingly, this new EP kicks off with "Born Again," a jaunty, almost levitating song that taps into gospel and folk, with a piano led rhythm and clap-along percussion. It's something to sway to; swoon to, even... To reach that kind of rejuvenation is something we'd all hoped for, this past year. Zander puts it to music.

But I wanted to stream "Feel Like Home" for a few reasons, chief among them: I think it's the catchiest melody he's ever penned. It's a waltzy little ballad about someone taking more chances after falling in love, and feeling all the more assured by it. It's about a tension-relesae, a minor but blissful kind of realization of the self. It  is, again, the kind of sentiments we all have been yearning for a bit more often than usual, this past year.

What these four folk songs mean to me is a reminder to practice not only a lightness of mind and soul, but a call to sustain your resolve, or even just a belief in yourself.

You can download this EP via iTunes, Bandcamp and SoundCloud

A portion of ticket sales benefits Bark Nation, with the nonprofit's efforts shelter intervention and enrichment initiatives for area dogs, with team members tabling at the LT to provide education about their mission.