Friday, December 30, 2011

Auld Lang Syne

Be safe out there...
  Hi-Speed Dubbing - "Stone Calendar (2012)" by DC/Milo
It may be the end of the world--albeit "as we know it..." - but let's all keep together, keep our wits about us... and keep on...

Later on, in 2012 - there's this, down at the Park Bar in Detroit

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Watch Us Jumpstart

Hey all...
I started writing (and rambling) about local music at this new zine called iSpy... (Ypsi-backwards, think Ypsilanti...and Ann Arbor... but likely I'll spill back onto Detroit goings-ons as well)... if you're not sick of my own words, there's more to find there... (every Tuesday) 
Meanwhile - it's Mittenfest time again -
It's happening tonight, tomorrow, the day after, the day after that and then the day after that
find all your bands, schedules and what-have-you's HERE.

It's for a good cause...

and swing over here to download Mostly Midwest's free mixtape -for the occassion (featuring many Mittenfest players).

In The Bar(s) - NYE (WDET) - Scrumthousand '12

 It's Sights Day... right now... or, the Magic Stick... or...maybe by now it was yesterday--depending on when you're picking up the feed of this rattled, bloggy, telegram...

It'd be easy too easy to prattle on about the Sights being these quasi elder statesman of Detroit's music, er, 'scene'... consistent and resolute weekend warrior types still slogging out the garage rock glory that once emanated regularly throughout this town's clubs, bars, dives and watering holes throughout the early 00's...

Like the Muggs, the High Strung, and, lately, even the Witches, (or if we wanna get technical, Conspiracy of Owls too), the Sights are one of the handful of those initial, early-decade-Detroit dynamos who've maintained a steady presence on the local scene - albeit, more than most bands, having gone through a considerable amount of member-shifts...and re-shifts...

Not so much a revolving door...but more like a club, an institution... some stayed long, some were barely there... As many past and present members that were available for tonight will be on hand, guitars/bass/organ/drum-sticks -in-hand, ready to run through a full set of songs - most (if not all) will be from their recently released vinyl of rarities, demos, and live cuts called Twelve in the Bar - the first proper release for Detroit's Fountain Records.

My point - it's good to see 'em still going - even better to get the chance to hear songs we've either never heard or refreshing, alternate renditions of old favorites...

Personally, I drifted toward the crunchy-clatter-roar bookending of an otherwise sunny strutting pop ditty called "How Does It Feel?" -an outtake, no less. Also dig-able was the disarming acoustic-reimagining of "Got What I Want," turning that punch-heavy, riff-heavy, tumble-heavy single from 04's Got What We Want into more of a midnight wanderer's loungy blues ballad while still retaining hints of it's initial shoulder-juking sneer. We also get demos from newer records, like the piano-prominent "Maria" and the quintessential heartfelt to hellfire brand of raspy balladeering characteristic to headwriter/singer, Eddie Baranek, via "I'm Gonna Live the Life I Sing about in my Song..."

Take a listen to "Better Off Being..."
and consider seeing them, tonight - Dec 28th - at the Magic Stick - with the Wrong Numbers and the SinBads...

What are you doing New Year's...eve? ...out of a thousand invitations?
There's trouble and excitement, cheer, revelry and sense-stretching showmanship spilling all across the city on Saturday...
While you're driving around... tune in to WDET from 9pm to 1am... Writer/reporter Travis Wright will be holding court, a round table of musicians, music critics and label heads, discussing the year in local music...

New Year's Eve with Travis Wright from WDET on Vimeo.

And of course, there's this:

featuring this... Slufter  Marco Polio and the New Vaccines  Phantom Cats
Duane the Teenage Weirdo  Lenny Stoofy
Creepy Crawlers  Breezee One  Deastro
Mobil  V. Count Macula  Sheefy Mcfly
Estuaries  Jesse and the Gnome  Bones  Car Jack
Justin Carver  Ayo Sniggs  Dread Wings  Trophies  Mannikin

1314 Broadway...

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Twenty Twelve

Everything all the time...

The sound gets into my bloodstream, makes me type faster.

The song. The music.
The voice, its melody, spurs me to snatch words from some sudden ether, bumped and beguiled that I could be so moved by just two minutes of modest, taped-together noise; cute clatters and humble howls from dusty, cavernous basements, temporary inhabitants who write and record, their walls exposed and carpets torn, wires strung here and there, plugging in their beautiful burdens--their amps-a'-amplifyin'...

Song after song, from undergrad troubadours and blue-collar balladeers, the soulful kids who are galvanizing their punk side, from the hip-hop dudes who're savvying their new penchants for sleek electro-glitz pop samples; jazz players back up rappers, psychedelic rockers turn their ears toward soft ambient pop composers; while the rockers get weirder and the new abstractionist's seem, almost, to lap back around and seem right-way-round again - it's all Detroit, now... ...everything is everything...

Five years ago, when I lived in a neo-hippie haven, co-op housing on the outskirts of Michigan State, I used to invite bands from Detroit to come play house parties. A friend of mine, an integral ad-hoc roadie for those shows, who lived with me, had a characteristic farewell, whenever conversations ceased or we parted ways for class: "Take it slow..."

That sounds ludicrously sensible, right about now.

Augie, from the Hard Lessons... (who perform their traditional day-after-Christmas concert, Monday, at St. Andrew's) caught up with me, albeit through the fleeting, ethereal call-and-response of text-messaging, just yesterday.

"I see you're still writing about Detroit music..." was dropped in the middle of the characters...and no, he didn't put the italics in,...  I did. Cuz I say that same thing to myself every eleven-days or so...and the italics are always there.

And I'm either in disbelief, disillusionment or appreciation...excitement even.

Because why stop now? How could I even hope to take it slow... New songs go up every five hours around this town - our ears dippinginto the motherboards of any of dozens of local songwriters, hearing their new songs...  almost voyeuristic -if at least constantly-plugged-in...

The Rock Star died, indeed due to a considerable blow delivered by music pirates, kicking out the pillars of the industry rigged by major labels. But it also died because we could all start hearing each other so readily.

I'm listening, right now, to a brand new album from a band that's been kicking and singing around this town a while now - their latest work up and streaming upon the temporary transmittor of choice for our blurring times - the bandcamp contrivance
The Questions have slogged and soldiered through a helluva year to make the record of their lives - the most realized work from a born-poet backed by a full band of jazz-mutating, blues-stomping, psychedelic rock n rollers...

Broodish bass grooves and steady steppin drums, a trumpet lilting it's wheezy purr out under beautiful and blemished words, barbed and whispered, -an empowering and haunting indictment
Their currently slated to play the Lager House on Dec 30th...

And-anyhow, we're more than just a music scene anyway! We've got burgeoning filmmakers coming out of CCS, or cinema preservationists running movie houses like Corktown Cinema and we've got talented poets getting their voices heard through new publishing companies like SIC.Detroit.

But anyhow...
I used to tell myself that I was still writing about Detroit music because I was waiting for that day, that day where the scene would swell to the point where I could no longer take-it-slow, even if I tried...

What if we became the next Austen, was always the unspoken question...
But why would we want that?

As NPR reported this week - the actual musicians can no longer afford to live in the "live music capital" of the country because so many non-musician/listener/fans have flocked their - thus jacking rents up across town, propping up trendy condos, the listeners are pushing out the performers like invasive carp upon native sturgeons or trout...

That's one thing Detroit, in its current state of economic woe, doesn't have to worry about... just yet. We're in this strange middle ground, still yet ignored by big-time/national/mainstream press... But that's changing, little by little. Danny Brown's name is everywhere - and indie sites can't get enough of Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr... Phantasmagoria could be swept up any minute and in the meantime, and regionally- the typical cliques that separated genres, rock from hip/hop, are breaking down and giving way to healthy collaboration -

A, ...dare I say it..., new wave?

The reason I lose myself over local music - the reason I can't take it slow, the reason I'm still writing about local music, is the same reason anyone else like me (who doesn't play an instrument or who doesn't write songs ) keeps heading out to live shows - We're inspired in some weirder way, most likely fed by the tangibility of the-writers-of-these-songs---these-songs-that-get-into-my-bloodstream.

The Rock Star died because I can listen to these songs and then see the person who wrote it just two hours afterward, at the bar... talk to him about it. Touch them, either to shake their hand or shove them in the shoulder. The admiration, or at least, the appreciation, is crystallized when we have that tangibility.

I can't talk to King Creosote or Jon Hopkins so readily, I can't pick the brain of Cass McCombs or John Maus over coffee or even readily chat up Danny Brown, unless I set up a phone interview. But I'm going to see Eddie Baranek tonight at the Stick... and have coffee with Drew Bardo the next day...I can ask the former about his band's 12th anniversary and I can ask the latter about that line from the song: "holy jack rabbits fucking in the streets..."

There's something about being able to touch something in this vacuous, fast blurring internet-jumbled-deluge... To be able to actually catch that songwriter, and, indeed -take it slow, with them, a one-on-one over a pint or a latte, in a quaintly personable world outside of status updates, outside of MP3-streams and press releases about new tour dates...

Because unlike Austin, we're all still here, sorta... (Albeit scattered up and across the northern edges, some west, some east, and some way down in Mexicantown)...

i'm still livin at the old address / and i'm waiting on the weather / and i will pass / i know that it's true / it' s gonna be a good year...

Still... writing about Detroit music. Because I can't not be hopeful for the next good year - with everything moving, happening, fast (no more taking it slow)...then that's an indicator of the potential velocity for innovation...some profound permutation... a new wave, yes.

Not that we've yet reinvented the wheel through music - but we could, within the hour, even.

But it's not like I'm waiting for us to become Austin - who wants to? We're already some kind of other thing - The New Weird, steadily reforming every day.

The Rock Star's dead because we no longer need to be blessed, as Austin has been for decades. Yes, we were blessed, christened, in the days of Motown... But we no longer need some columnist, some blogger like me, to tell this scene what it is or how great it is or how much it sucks...

You're all telling each other, every day.

And even those conversations are supremely secondary... the song(s).

happy new year


This quote is all over the internet - so I'm not sure if, indeed, it can be credited to Physicist Dr. Ted McIrvine, whose voice uttered it during Friday's All Things Considered...

There's no limit to what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit...

And isn't it fitting, then, that Time Magazine would name it's Person of the Year: The Protester... A noun, not quite a person, not quite a thing. And not a one.

Who actually gets the credit for the Arab Spring, for Occupy Wall Street, for the protests, the resistence, the solidarity, and the calls against disenfranchisement in Athens and in Moscow...

Not a one.

Another heartwarming night, last night, packed with endearing performances from local musicians for a good cause (raising money for Coalition on Temporary Shelters)...

And here's a few other seen scenes... Days ago inside Hybrid Moments in Ferndale (a record/clothing/alt-culture shop that regularly hosts live music events inside their humble, cozy space):

Monday, December 19, 2011

Lists & Things: Sights (12/28), Lettercamp--Remix-able

This was a year I'd gotten away from album reviews and deeper into interviews, essays, more narrative pieces... A year of reflection can mean, bluntly, that you weren't really allowing that much to seep in; you were too busy looking back, looking out, or trying to sum something up - I had to take the last week to do some intense listening/reviewing... it was fun but hectic.

I don't wanna say I have "favorites" this year, ... But a collection of local albums that I kept spinning / streaming / burning...there's no way I could bring order to this list

GLOSSIES - Phantom Films - (particularly: "On The Rebound")

The Juliets - Perfect Season...
Prussia - Poor English - ("What Am I Gonna Tell Your Mom?" probably got spun the most, but also--"St. Elmo's Fire Pt. II")

Zoos of Berlin - Pallaster Chant EP - (particularly: "Tamarind")

The Blueflowers - In Line With The Broken Hearted

Passalacqua - Zebehazy Summer - (particularly: "High Anxiety" (with Ben Miles))-- but also -"Sirens"

The Witches - single - "Stoned Cold The Grave"

The Questions - recently put up the entierity of their new album Chasing The Light -

--Where was I?
Looking forward to more material (maybe some kind of proper LP?) from Phantom Cats...
So far, you can only find demos... But I'd recommend: "Pulsations" - stream it here...
Phantom Cats seems to lead me into Phantasmagoria - who have a new LP coming out sometime in early 2012 - but for now, I'd recommend: "Take It To The Moon" (Interview here).
let's keep this stream of conscious going...tally tally tally  - shout-out-shout-out-shout-out...
Bad Indians! ...they played this song in the scuffed and smoky ambiance of Kelly's in Hamtramck and it's been a favorite ever since...

And then there's Crappy Future - dashing and dynamic and dorky and welcomingoly doused with dazzling pedal effects...

Oh, but, then, swinging back over to Ypsilanti's scene for a minute...
Jehovah's Witness Protection Program had this jam called "Humans" that you should listen to - it finds the poignancy in punk.
Doc Waffles sang about Socks - but so much more
Doc Illingsworth sang about Bread - but, again, so much more...
WarrenPeace sang about fair trade coffee and Ben Miles sang about assurance of musical purpose, the  meaningful work of songwriting...and performing.

Duende! sang about Barefoot Bandit(s)...from their Florence to the Mad Man LP

The Sugarcoats apparently were streaming this (via Cass) since late last December...but I didn't find it until May- so I'm counting it-- dig!

Ben Christensen (of Just Boyz) sang about Dracula's Castle (via his Bones project)

Then, of course, there's Legendary Creatures, who gave this song (a favorite from 2010) a proper mixing and mastering...

Legendary Creatures shares a member with Robin Goodfellow - who released "A Week of Wonders," as well as sharing that same player from the Computer Perfection ensemble... who jammed out a spacey "Thirteen Minute Theme"

But then there were the young guns:
Gold Tapes had a bevy of releases, including stuff from Kommie Kilpatrick and Deadbeat Beat. (I think, up next, for GT, is something with Duane).

Duane (The Teenage Weirdo), in the meantime, put something out with Beehive Recording Company.

But also... HandGrenades.... Citizen Smile... Jesse & The Gnome...

Johnny Ill Band fercryin-out-loud

There was House Phone:

And the Ashleys, of course...

of course of course... Pink Lightning drank fancy and Cold Men Young set off a time bomb.

Ryan Allen grew extra arms... ...and John Nelson went solo.

Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti stalwart folk-troubadours Timothy Monger and Chris Bathgate both had stellar releases this year...
And I know I'm missing at least 14 other bands and maybe 17 other songs... and at least two or three other genres...

If you're still reading at this point? Might I direct your attention to more songs on the Internet:
Detroit's prominent electro-pop/dazzled-dance-rock quintet Lettercamp have a new single up:

"Oh Well" will be on their forthcoming full-length album (early 2012) -via Sweden-based label Substream (with whom they recently signed, --apparently their style/sound, coupled with a recent White Stripes cover has effectively caught the tastes/attention of the Euro-scenes, albeit, here, comparably, as well)...

Other recent news for this luminous, synth-n-bass-heavy band is the addition of renowned  keyboardist Zach Shipps (of Electric 6) -
This track's already got a formidable amount of remixes offered on this EP, but you can take a spin on it as well - Sony Creative is offering a "remix contest" - via their site (

Also in the news: The Sights are turning 12... (and celebrating at the end of the 12th month, at the end of the 12th year of this century... (12/28) at the Magic Stick in Detroit).

"Twelve in the Bar," a collection of rarities, gets released next week via Fountain Records. The group, helmed by Eddie Baranek, might be given that respectable title of "institution," a staple, a veteran, something like that... indeed ,the bluesy/garage-rock institution of the Sights has seen many players come and go, some staying longer and others sometimes just spending a few nights.

As many of those former mates that could be reached and were available will be joining Baranek on stage, that night - on a bill that also features The Wrong Numbers and the Sin Bads...

Take a listen:

Another thing that just popped into my head... (since I mentioned the Electric 6, ^ above...) that band is joining fellow tour-heavy gang Child Bite, to perform a handful of year-ending shows - you can see them 12/23 at St. Andrews (--after that, it's all-through Ontario CA).

And that note reminds me of one of my favorite memories of 2011:
Interviewing Child Bite through the production stages of their latest EP - which involved a St. Patrick's Day Parade complete with a gang of Star Wars characters...
That same weekend - I interviewed a dozen bands (and about 19 musicians) at once...over waffles. That was great.
That's about all for now...
There was also this from Johnny Headband...

Johnny Headband - Over There from Johnny Headband on Vimeo.

Okay, that's it... that's it! that's all I can handle for now - more year-reviewing thoughts may yet pop up...
for now...
Happy Holidaze..., where was I?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Random notes before year's end - 53dt--> GBV Split: Ryan Allen / Kickstand Band + SelfSays + Golden Memories

The year is ending ...and the time has come to add up the numbers...

"-Once upon a time there was an idea to do a short run split 7″ vinyl series that featured cover songs of some of the artists we love and adore.

The series will be known from here on out as Disarm The Settlers..."

Local blog-born / 7"-single-happy label, Five Three Dial Tone Records trucked down to Dayton, OH, last week to offer that town some homegrown new singles, a couple of Guided By Voices cover-songs...

That mighta' made for interesting conversation down there, or perhaps raised some of their brows at its perceivable presumptuous, since, ya think about it, Dayton is the hometown of prolific-lo-fi songwriter Robert Pollard founder/leader of GBV, the birthplace of said-band (and many other notable indie-rock icons).

Well, anyhow... 53dt offered limited copies of their new 7" split single of Michigan bands covering songs by Pollard's revered-and-recently-reunited/recharged rock n roll band Guided By Voices. (Said indie-legend's newest album, a first in many years, drops at the start of the coming new year)...

The accidental formula/combination served 53dt well:
->...get one songwriter whose been in a fan of Pollard/GBV's work for his entire adult life and had it soundtrack his late teens and college days substantially enough to have even seeped, inevitably, as a formative influence upon his recent cannon of work... i.e. Ryan Allen (& His Extra Arms) - and on the flip side, put a scrappier, happier-go-luckier trio of mid-20-something's who probably haven't, if ever at all, listened to that much GBV in their initial days of local bar show circuits, i.e. The Kickstand Band...

You get the latter doing a combo of the lulling incantations of "Non Absorbing" into one of their most well-loved tracks, "Game of Pricks," with the former, that being Allen, doing another quintessential ("I Am A Scientist" off of Bee Thousand) into Alien Lanes charging anthem "Motor Away..." (listen here).

***And pick up your copy, at a forthcoming show in January - at Royal Oak's UHF Records...

That said... SelfSays--has been featured in yet another of his seemingly unending string of collaborations - recently dropping onto the Internet with (iN)sect Records' Starship 27 single series - rapping over a clattering, synth-ripping space-out jam by producer The Kone - listen here. that 2012 looms before us, it's got me thinking back upon some of my favorite live/local music moments were, this year.

One particular moment involves SelfSays, (aka Charles Vann,) performing at Sparklefest, inside Northend Studios. It was on a warm, wildly windy night in the middle of summer, Self, rapping, pacing around, half valiant, half shy, sharp yet endearing, in the middle of a cluttered room, some cavernous hollowed-out vestibule with strobe lights and cigarette smoke, the bass blaring, the huddled crowd grooving together... and fireworks in the background, over the skyscrapers, from the Tiger's game having just wrapped up.

These things happen sometimes...

Or, it got me thinking back to another moment... back to the Blowout - when the now defunct psyche-folk quartet Golden was playing inside the wood-paneled, '80's-sports-bar-smoke-soaked ambiance of Kelly's Bar, with ice and snow swirling outside the door and a literal sausage factory right across the street. With midnight setting on... And they decide to cover the Cranberries still-well-loved yet overplayed, epic, yodeled, softy-alt-rock anthem: "Dreams..."

To have 49 buzzed-to-drunken, coat-swathed hipsters sardine'd together inside that bar, upon slippery linoleum, howling out those closing bars of indecipherable chant/scatting...was invigorating...

To shout out together, where no one knew the words, really, no one could tell you the words, and no one could even understand anyone else's words, what with all the Millers and Vodka this pack had guzzled,... But it was warm and endearing, in its way...
These things happen sometimes...

Further thoughts on that closing "memory" - National Public Radio/WNYC's Sound Check had a feature on "Singing in Fictional Tongues," yesterday - whether Sigur Ros, Enya or mumble-tracking ala The Talking Heads. (listen here). 

Friday, December 16, 2011

2011: The Year of Digital Zen

Words: Tom Matich

"..And what the hell were you putting your faith in / something you could not, someone you look too / and now you watch it, always floating over / what you would long for, what you were born to" -- The Dodos, "Don't Try and Hide It."

2011 was about the truth. In the heavy sense -- if that's your interpretation. But having to do with music, truth in that you should honestly embrace the things you enjoy, no pretense is necessary. There are no barriers at this point and technology such as Spotify and only serve to enable more discovery and endless choices. But, I also went to a local album release show where the door cover came with a vinyl copy of the album. I've had my eyes on one of these, too.

I'm more open to the fact that there is all types of music I love and shit that I just can't get into. Good taste? Poor taste? Let's get over ourselves.

iPhone or phonograph - it doesn't matter how; just keep listening.

Here are some of my favorite musical things from 2011:

Album: Gang Gang Dance Eye Contact

I spent many Monday evenings this year in a warm, candle-lit room practicing Yoga. During my regular gym workouts, I would often escape to the wooden floors of the vacant Yoga studio for my own personal "Vinyasa" time. While stretching and bending, I would listen to Gang Gang Dance's Eye Contact on my iPod. Although it is an experimental electronic album, the soundscapes whisked my mind away to spiritual planes, with the mysterious coos of vocalist Liz Bougatsos hypnotizing me into a supernatural trance.

Eye Contact opens with a swirling, epic journey as the 11-minute "Glass Jar" transports the ears into an alien world of musical mysticism. From there, the album continues to take risks as it becomes some of the most delightfully strange music since 1970s jazz-fusion and ambient: Billy Cobham meets Tangerine Dream? Perhaps. The bizarre digital disco of "MindKilla" highlights the album's fascinating DNA: an advanced, hybrid creature dating back to the Jurassic era that crash landed from another planet into our digital frontier. But this thing is not a nasty Predator, more like a sacred warrior sent to free our spirits. Namaste.

Song: M83 "Midnight City"

Was this song on the Donnie Darko soundtrack or in a John Hughes film? The lead single from M83's delightful double album Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, "Midnight City" is an instant classic that accomplishes the rare feat of eliciting nostalgia while also sounding fresher than anything from the bygone era it makes one recall. Who cares if it was used in a Victoria's Secret commercial, its blissful crescendo of synthesized organs and romantic bouquet of bass will keep this beautiful track burning for ages.

Debut: SBTRKT (self-titled)

Aaron Jerome aka SBTKT makes fresh beats. Think of him as the feel good version of fellow London-based electronic maestro Burial. Groove heavy tracks such as "Something Goes Right" and "Right Thing to Do" make a case for dubstep flavored music being more complex and rewarding than the stereotypical "WOMP WOMP" heard in certain clubs. Moving beyond that to the bigger landscape of pop production, on "Wildfire" he supplies guest vocalist Yukimi Nagano (of Little Dragon) with a buoyant backdrop that elevates her to her finest hour -- and herein lies this kid's potential.

Mixtape: Curren$y Covert Coup

Curren$y is a very busy man. Between numerous mixtape and album releases in 2011, he made time to collaborate with producer The Alchemist for Covert Coup. Quickly gaining stock as the most charismatic rapper in the underground, Curren$y's butter smooth flow is reminiscent of Reasonable Doubt-era Jay-Z: street riches, being fly and living the Mafioso high life. Supplied with an arsenal of potent instrumentals from The Alchemist that coat the New Orleans bred Curren$y with a Manhattan flair, Covert Coup is as slick as a Navy Seal hit.

Although solo cuts such as "Success Is My Cologne" are ice cold, Curren$y is at his best here when sharing the mic with other rap titans, such as Prodigy of Mobb Deep on "The Type" and Fiend for "Blood, Sweat and Gears." The latter track features fellow New Orleans rapper Fiend, who some may remember from the No Limit Records hey-day of Master's P '97 hit "Make 'Em Say Ugh." Gone are his Mystikal growls, with Fiend now delivering a syrupy flow that crackles and burns over Alchemist's jazzy neo-noir. But, Curren$y's best duet is probably still ahead of him; he's remained prolific since Covert Coup, releasing another three projects and counting.

Remix: Lady Gaga "You & I" (Wild Beasts remix)

I'm not a huge fan of Lady Gaga and the band Wild Beasts never did much for me. That being said, this far-left remix by the indie band struck a chord with me, with its bombastic waves of echoes that make Gaga's excellent vocals shine. But the stellar, moody piano breakdown is what really puts this in the pantheon of a classic electronic track in the vein of late nite '90's radio.

Songwriting: Kurt Vile Smoke Ring For My Halo

The lyrics and even some of the song titles ("Peeping Tomboy") on Kurt Vile's fourth album, Smoke Ring for My Halo, tip-toe the line between tongue-in-cheek hyperbole to poetically profound. But Vile's playful sense of humor is what saves him from being another self-serious folk rocker boring us to tears as he strums sad, depressing shit on his guitar.

Amid the controversy surrounding one of the album tracks, "Baby's Arms," being included in a Bank of America commercial, Vile inadvertently gives a response to the OWS crowd on "Puppet to The Man," as he sings: "I bet by now / You prob’ly think I’m a puppet to the man / Well, I shout it out loud / Because I know that I am / Sometimes I’m stuck / And then I think I can’t unglue it / Will you help me do it?". It's a moment of brutal honesty on an record full of frank admissions. And in a corporate world, there is really is no escape unless one is Amish: those protesters are shooting video on their "Made in China" Apple iPhones.

Vile has stated his music isn't a venue for his political views. Smoke Ring for My Halo could've been made by a street busker, it has the sentiment of open mic nights and Greyhound Bus road trips. Fortunately, Vile has the musical chops to elevate this into a shimmering bar of AM GOLD you can hold in your hand. It's about the irony of the human experience -- the real and fake of it all -- to quote Vile: "In my time I was whack and wild / I was just being myself, damn."

Dance Track: Hercules & Love Affair "My House"

Blue Songs, the follow-up to Hercules & Love Affair's classic debut, was a criminally slept-on record. For one, it was released in the US after being available in the UK for over eight months. Perhaps it was the lack of this Moshi Moshi released sophomore album not having the back-up of DFA records that the first one did, or was it the strangely tepid reviews from critics?

But there's no denying the power of the record's first single, "My House." It thumps along with the ferocity of a techno classic, with newcomer Shaun Wright's vocals commanding rumps to the dance floor. Big Fun.

Top40 Single: Chris Brown "Look At Me Now"

With his latest album, F.A.M.E., and his recent media outbursts and personal issues, Chris Brown has become the new Bobby Brown of R&B. Brown has ditched his boy-next-door looks and embraced the bad boy image, dying his hair blonde and inking his body with tattoos. On a pop-culture level, the re-invention is interesting, especially since the music he's made recently has been very entertaining. F.A.M.E. has spawned a slew of blockbuster hits, from the Usher inspired "Yeah 3x" to the Michael Jackson/"Human Nature" tribute of "She Ain't You" or the addictive Benny Benassi produced "Beautiful People."

But the Diplo (yes) orchestrated posse cut "Look At Me Now," his most bombastic work since "Paper Planes," is definitely the highlight. Busta Rhymes murders the beat with his rapid fire delivery. Lil Wayne does his thing (personally, I can take or leave him) and Brown mixes clever braggadocios one-liners and ego-flexin' croons. One wonders what if M.I.A. would've had this beat instead... where is Maya, anyway?

Live Performance: Ryan Adams webcast concert on CBS' The Late Show with David Letterman

After marrying Mandy Moore and learning to play music again since being diagnosed with Ménière's disease (a disorder of the inner-ear that can affect hearing and balance), the notoriously prolific Ryan Adams returned with Ashes & Fire, his first album of new material since 2008's Cardinology. On his thirteenth record, Adams returns as a solo artist following the quiet dissolution of his tight backing band, The Cardinals. Ashes & Fire is a mellow affair, with Adams at his most tender and humbled. Embarking on a worldwide acoustic tour, he's applying a fragile touch to his catalog, armed with only a mic and guitar.

On December 5th, Adams hit the Ed Sullivan stage for a special webcast concert that ran for over an hour. David Letterman has featured Adams as a musical guests many times over the years, but this was by far his best performance to date - touching on new songs, tunes from Heartbreaker, a splendid version on "New York, New York" on the piano and even digging into some Whiskeytown tracks and covering Bob Mould. Stellar.

Collaboration: Raekwon The Chef featuring Nas "Rich & Black"

Forget about "Ni@@as in Paris," this long-due sequel to "Verbal Intercourse" has been many hip-hop purists Holy Grail -- well maybe that and Detox. Riding a Wu-Gambino inspired beat, the two New York rap legends trade swagger-dripped barbs. Although it won't go down in history like their Cuban Linx... collaboration (for one, Ghostface Killah is absent on this go-round), "Rich & Black" truly feels like hip-hop royalty commanding the throne.

Film Score: Contagion - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack - Cliff Martinez

In the vein of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' brilliant, Academy Award winning The Social Network score, Cliff Martinez has delivered this year's addicting soundtrack. Full of dark synthesizers and chilly atmosphere, Martinez has created a fantastic, stand-alone work that could've been a score to an Alex Jones documentary or an international spy thriller starring George Clooney. Even though you could hear these mysterious tunes on NPR or in a museum and not think twice, as someone who found Contagion to be perhaps the best film he saw in 2011 (Martinez also scored another one of my faves, Drive), Martinez does stay true to the biological nightmare of the film as I often recall Matt Damon's character caught up in the frenzy of a viral apocalypse, or a choking Gwyneth Paltrow.

Miscellaneous Honorable Mentions:

Bon Iver - Bon Iver
The Dodos - No Color
Ryan Allen - Extra Arms
The Antlers - Burst Apart
Holy Ghost! - Holy Ghost!
Tycho - Dive

ASAP Rocky - "Peso"
SSION - "Psy-chic"
TV on The Radio - "Will Do"
Destroyer - "Chinatown"
Nas - "Nasty"
Kendrick Lamar - "A.D.H.D."

Whachya Listenin To?

It's the end of the year...and I'm looking back, yes...but also looking forward... Fresh New Local sounds....

Whatchya Listenin To?
little o' this...

little o' that...

and some of this...

Heartbreak Dallas & the Unfaithfuls
Lightning Love
The Questions

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Corktown Cinema - Instrument - "Ask All The Doctors"

The word Weird comes up a lot while chatting with the Johnny Ill Band.

Johnny Ill sings about breaking his washing machine and how having his dirty clothes splayed around his room makes him feel weird...real weird.

A lot of people, in fact, think his lyrics and songwriting is “weird.”

Even Weird Al’s version of the Kinks’ “Lola” swirls up out of stream of conscious discussion shuffled across the dining room table, with organist Pete Steffy, drummer Chris Campbell, guitarist Paul Deroachie, bassist Matt Larson, and, of course, Ill... We're inside the home of Steffy, X! Records' head Scott Dunkerley and Corktown Cinema's Jeff Wise. (full article here).

Johnny Ill used to live with Craig Brown (Terrible Twos bassist/singer) and that, he says, could be weird at times... weirder still, that the Ill Band's earliest incarnation included an all-Terrible-Two's-back-up membership (recent Nashville-transplant Danny Bing played keys).

This current line up (that solidified in late 08, for the most part), tells me about how they recorded their new album Ask All The Doctors in a “weird sex den, in a Chelsea cabin…”

As we settle down to talk about music, Johnny snacks on Nutella spread; his band mates cast off hazelnut flavoring and he just shrugs, looking down at his shiny brown smear of toast...“it’s weird…”

Singing in front of people is weird, too.

Beyond that, it's also weird to all five of them that there seems to be more people regularly coming out to shows, particularly within the widening circle of avant-gardist rock and punk groups tied to the X! Records label...

Derochie (himself eager to get out into a music project since the disolving of Detroit-based Fontana) is asked what it’s like playing in the Ill Band and what it's like playing in Detroit’s music scene.

Of course, “…it’s weird.”

When I first heard a Johnny Ill Band, I thought, lyrically-at least, that perhaps Mitch Hedberg's bemusing charm had been resurrected through the voice of this shaggy, Ypsi-bred, singer/guitarist. "...someone said it was 'New Detroit' but sometimes it's still real bad, and sometimes it still feels like 'Old Detroit' and you forget about the advancements in technology...and you might come home and someone stole your car...well, I live in the future but sometimes I for-get...cuz the world is bad..."
That's not exactly a melodic example, but it still captures his unique bead on these strange daily things we call -life. His mates help him visualize a raw, scuffed up space-pop, swirled with synth and gnarly roars of feedback, snarling bent-up guitars and shuffled along with sturdy, mostly minimalist rhythms.
Doctors gets its debut tomorrow (Friday, Dec 16th at Jumbo's in Detroit) - a dual-release party, including Sros Lords 7" single. Turn to Crime also performs.
...but back to that house, with Dunkerley and Wise. (read a Metro Times feature, here). ...A fine, and not-so-cluttered house, that acts as practice space for the Beekeepers, Ill Band, Frustrations and the Terrible Twos.
Dunkerley is back on track, after slowing things down, just a bit, with X! Records and his band, noise-rock trio Frustrations. Aside from moving, he wrapped up a degree in film studies. This was an industrious autumn for X!, just recently dropping a 7" single for the Ill Band as well as Frustrations newest LP Negative Reflections. A review of that album is up here. In a bandcamp/digi-world, Dunkerley is "still committed to that physical product" of vinyl, and indeed, as much as ever, excited and inspired by the music going on around Detroit. It's been a productive 8+ years for him and his label.
Also getting back on track is Detroit's underground film culture.
Dunkerley's band is performing as part of a fundraising concert for his roomate, Wise and his group of cinematic collaborators, otherwise known as the group behind celebrated (and recently closed down) movie house, the Burton Theatre. Well, that dream lives again, with Corktown Cinema. Feelings are joining the line up (with a suggested donation at the door) for tonight (12/15)'s performance at the Lager House.
Before the bands perform, the Corktown Cinema team will screen the Fugazi documentary -INSTRUMENT-
Ask All The Doctors is out on Urinal Cake Records.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Not Another Boring Bone Avenue Evening

An Interview, discussing the ..."bending and warping" of music...  ~

It feels like my year (2011), started, properly, with Pupils...

It was cold. It was night. It was early January and it was in Small's in Hamtramck. The band had the side doors propped open so that they could simultaneously smoke their bar-banned cigarettes whilst swiftly traipsing in-and-out, loading their monstrous amplifiers in from the icy sidewalks.

Was it their first show? Probably wasn't... But, maybe it was? --This is how Internet legend is born.

Matt Luke (from Legendary Creatures) was playing with Jason Worden (of Red China), along with, then-drummer Scottie Stone (of Dutch Pink)...and letting Steven Puwalski (of Marco Polio & the New Vaccines) bark his throaty, interdimensional incantations, out atop their sturdy, post-post-rock, soulful-psyche grooves. It would be druggy if not for it's measured fits of lightning, it would be psychedelic if not for it's more heady blends of muddy post-punk and post-bop jazz rhythms, and it would be noise-rock if not for the specific hooks and tangible melodies adorning many of their, for the most part, straight forward 4-ish-minute jams.

It was what it was....and now it's become this...

"...I've got a story to tell...but I'm not gonna tell it yet, cuz we're gonna play this song first..."

The band recently welcomed drummer Dave Jennings (of Pewter Cub) as they celebrate their first full year together. They'll cap that off with the release of a recently wrapped 7" single (...hopefully in early February). "As far as we know," guitarist/bassist Luke initially responded, "(the title) is impossible to pronounce...-you can guess who's brain that came from..."

But, within a few days, Luke came back with a more solid answer "The final title is: Not Another Boring Bone Evening..." - recorded with Jeff Spatafora (of DevilFish). Luke said they parted ways with original drummer Stone "amicably," without "acrimony; Scottie's an amazing drummer and we were sad to part ways with him, but all four of us agreed it was for the best..."

Jennings, meanwhile has "really clicked; we gelled so well during that first practice that we decided that night to offer him the job. He's very much on the same page as us, creatively speaking, and he's already joined in in the writing aspect of songs, suggesting very Pupils-y ideas about bending and warping out parts..."

That writing chemistry is key, since the quartet writes all as-a-unit. "Sometimes," says Luke, "we lose track of which part is which so we name them: -Sarge,  -Lefty,  -One-Eye, etc... based on each part's personality."

Pupils songs are multitudinous... "many parts, often with changes that may seem counter-intuitive, so when a song is being written, we frequently are surprised to discover that what felt like an 18-minute prog-voyage clocks in at less than 3 -1/2 minutes..."

This, Luke says, is why they often describe their band, their songs and their sound as: "compact prog."

But, also, "Yes-Wave gets thrown around, because we never say no- to trying out new brilliant, stupid ideas."

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Tuesday In The Forest - Dec 13 (with me) and Robin Goodfellow -

a night to be filled with many questions (and, likely, very few substantial answers)...
Tuesday evening at the Loving Touch (12/13)

<--This is, mostly, how it works...

I'll be spinning a bunch of local vinyl LPs; a quasi-revue of 2011's releases from a random-ish crop of Detroit bands, joining Mr. Dave Lawson for his always charming DJ nights, hosted at the Loving Touch, in Ferndale.

Robin Goodfellow, at some point in the evening, will plug in and make some noise ^^sampled above... and likely be forced to answer a few questions from me, via LIVE Interview... We'll see what kinds of mind-altering musings we can channel...

See you there. 12/13. Loving Touch. 9 p.m.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

New School(s)

All that really mattered, at the end, was that we were talking about it.

Way too soon, then, in those moments following the set at the 3rd Street Bar, to even attempt to surmise just what it was, or what it came from…what it imitated, what it re-imagined… The impact was quantified in our questions.

And, perhaps, it's redeeming quality is that, whatever it was, we didn’t want to cast it off right then and instead let it linger. Welcomed it lingering, mostly.

‘It’…was Duane, “the Teenage Weirdo…”
more info on where/what/when to see-and-hear can be viewed here.
~~~ (more to come, later, in iSpy Magazine)
But, anyway, back to the original essay I wrote about scenes, cycles, weirdoes and inspiration... The New School(s)

I don't believe in new schools...

Per se...
Not at a time like now,
...when everyone seems bitten, cracked, pushed, goaded, and even somewhat self-mystified. Unquestioned inspiration. ...New dogs, old tricks - Old dogs, new tricks...

We're on the radio. We're on the Internet. We're on stages.

That we were cozily shunted into what used to be the billiard-hall portion of the Magic Stick last night, to host shows that would likely only draw a hundred or more bodies, made it that much more astounding, that there was all this compacted into one little, mostly insignificant space, itself a fraction of a larger complex inside an even bigger, whirling, indifferent city, a patch of mossy energy inside a shivered shell, throbbing with the thrum of synthesizers and quaking in spurts with the fuzzy thunder of bass amps...

"just one shadow on the wall...."

(Pictured above - Ann Arbor quintet Chrome Sparks, with Jeremy Malvin on lead vocals.)

New dance music from new songwriters... Phantasmagoria playing to a packed crowd last night. Some their friends. Some of them same-aged Wayne Staters, many of them diplomats from other bands... And this, only 14 months after I saw them play for 15 people at Paycheck's on a random Friday in the dead of late Autumn... This time, it was quite a different Friday...and Passalacqua, by themselves (or girded by the Babini's) made sure of that!

But it's not that I want to reach for grandiose delusions that dress these, what shall we call them, moments? as anything more than humans gravitating towards music as a means of galvanizing escapism... a therapy... to move, to groove, to socialize (dip, perhaps and to dive)...

But that 'have you seen them yet?' syndrome catches so easy, so quick... The new school - to what, size them up? Fervor has to be tempered, from time to time... else we lose ourselves... But then, how will we know our true potential, does the scene fly together, upward, synchronized like trapezists in tights, can we all catch the same swing? How do we know how much we can unveil, how much we can advance-and-transform music and culture, if we don't stomp the pedal, let it all boil over, get crazier together...

The kind of envelope pushing exhibited through the wild grace and showy strut of glam-pop star Duane The Teenage Weirdo...who performs in about four hours from now, tonight- at the Third Street Bar, alongside Human Eye, a band that, in bemusing ways, reflects his approach, his display, his delivery - at least in terms of, frankly, showing you something you haven't seen before - whether it's ebullient, flamboyofreak, avant-elegance -or if it's ferocious, punk-imploded space-rock decked with crude and disturbing props and oozy theatrics.

The HotSpotLite of local media gets cast around at commendably twitter-paced speeds these days... There may be those out and around who still echo the age old hawing-hems, Why such a to-do over them and not someone else...or not me? 
That loud mess is, or at least should by now, decreasing...

(Phantasmagoria performing my own personal favorite Radiohead song...last weekend)

Yes, the new school is weird and exciting, curtained in surging synth fuzz and adorned to enticing perfection with indelible beats of chest-thumping amplifications... But we're all bitten, ain't we... -whether we're 22, whether we're from Detroit or Ann Arbor, whether this is our fifth band or if we're on some magazine's cover or if our Kickstarter got funded in 23 hours... whatever.

It's the energy. Here, or even in Ypsilanti...down to Toledo, even, or right over in Ferndale - age, style, clique, location - all of it is secondary to what we can all take heart in... the energy.

It's what keeps us sane, really. We release something at these shows, these moments, that may not be tangible. If you're anything like me, you walk away inspired, because you want to reflect the energy you just saw (felt?) emitted on that stage, in that moment, whether its from Duane or from Timmy Vulgar...or Jeecy & the Jungle!!
(video by Kelly Bennett)
We're each leaves spurted upward, nurtured by dynamism.

Or, we could be, I suppose...
Where was I going? Fred Thomas is still kicking ass, the Sights are turning 12-in-style, and Phantasmagoria is finishing a new album while Duane got signed to the Black Lips label; the Mexican Knives are sharpening by the week and Danny Kroha has embraced his penchant for blues with the Darleans while Lightning Love starts striking again with an EP and an LP on the way and Passalacqua and Eddie Logix and Detroit CYDI begin a steady intertwining of the hip/hop scene-into-the-indie-rock crowds...

As Phantasmagoria's Christopher Jarvis put it: "Everyone's feeding off each other's creative energy, its great."

Why question it?

Or as Duende's Jeff Howitt put it, earlier this morning, on the circuity of any/each community's percolating music culture: "...Was a guitar then a turntable then a keyboard now it's a guitar again... Hot funk.. Cool punk...Funny when you look back and didn't know you weren't the only one..."

And on...and now another...and we shall see what happens...