Thursday, December 31, 2015

Weekly What's Up: Congress (Ugly Eye) -and- Secret Friends Fest 3 I've restarted my weekly columns ("Weekly What's Up") over at The Current. Check it out. 

This week's installment...

Jan 1 (Congress’ New Album)

Congress had these songs ready about two years ago, but only recently got into the studio to lay ‘em down. That gave them plenty of time, through rehearsals, rewrites and live recitals at sporadic concerts, to give the tunes space to breathe, nurtured with sweat droplets and galvanized by cranked amps. More than that, the quartet (Jim Cherewick Eric Gallippo Ed Golembiewski Aaron Quillen) have also had time for their chemistry as bandmates to congeal.

“We wanted to try some things that filled the songs out this time,” said Gallippo. “…more textures and subtle sounds in the mix, like on the early R.E.M. records. Nothing you would miss if it wasn’t there live, but parts that mix things more richly or just sound more exiting, if just for a few measures even: acoustic guitars, different amps, piano, organ, hand claps, extra percussion.”

You’re always more limber 20 minutes into a jog. You can always do your fourth and fifth cartwheels better than those first two tumbles. Congress, accordingly, is tighter, tougher; more air in its lungs and stepping with a surer footing. The grooves are synced snugly and slick, the guitars seem more at home inside their occasionally monstrous growls, the riffs sleek, taut, the vocals feel like a caustic kite cut loose into the gale, applying just the right amount of alien-fuzz-fx to Cherewick’s already otherworldly trilled yowl. Congress is sounds unanimous.

“I think this one had maybe less bravado?” Gallippo says, thinking about it out-loud. “Or, fewer ‘bluesy’ riffs, maybe. A few more twists, turns, and false starts/stops; probably because we got more comfortable together as a band.” That’ll happen after 3+ years. If you aren’t listening yet, welcome to the party.

When they broke out of the gate, I anticipated Congress to be inheriting a bit of Wire’s post-punk and some of Fugazi’s post-hardcore. But the great news contained in Ugly Eye is that they’re not really either of those derivatives and, instead, winningly, becoming their own curious concoction of propulsive percussive rock and funk-flaired surf/punk. These songs, produced with Ian Saylor, are more toe-tappers than head-bangers, more driving, coasting, soaring type jams rather than moshed-bombast. These songs sound like they have wings. They can do barrel rolls. And, to reiterate the chemistry, it sounds like they’re all securely harnessed, so why not try a loop-de-loop. Take off.

Seek Ugly Eye out. Halfway through the record, we get "Pond Fight," which I'm declaring a new classic of modern American rock. 

Congress is performing on January 1st, day 4 of Mittenfest X at Bona Sera in Ypsilanti

Next Friday (Jan 8)

While I know everyone is either planning for New Year’s Eve or trying to recover from an extended hangover, I hope you’ll take this column’s advice to opportunely update your cultural calendars and consider a trip toward Ferndale on Jan 8 & Jan 9.

Jason Stollsteimer (of PONYSHOW) has curated a two-day festival that sort of shines a beacon out from the Detroit region out toward SE-Canada and across the rustbelt, calling several on-the-cusp bands who have devoted their lives (or at least every free hour from their day jobs) to fostering their groups as their own DIY managers. 

Secret Friends Fest is an opportunity not only for hard-working up-and-coming (and nearly-breakout) indie bands to come together under an umbrella of mutual support (and inevitable future-touring networking opportunity) but also for local fans to hear a handful of exceptional bands who may not otherwise have gotten around to touring through their town if not for these circumstances. This is the 3rd annual Secret Friends Fest and it seems to only be getting bigger, both in terms of lineup and reception.

Lineup features: Tart, Prude Boys, Junk Food Junkies, Rogue Satellites, Deadbeat Beat, The Deadly Vipers and more… From outside of Michigan, you can hear Mild High Club, Heaters, Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs and much more. More info  

Secret Friends Fest – Jan 8 & Jan 9
The Loving Touch, Ferndale
(22634 Woodward, Ave)
2 nights / 18 bands / $10 (per day) Or $16 for the Weekend if you order in advance

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Height Keech - Unending Blaze E.P.

One last post before the year is out.......

Friend of Detroit's hip-hop scene Dan (Height) Keech has been hard at work on a new series of EP's titled Unending Blaze. The first EP in this three part installment comes out on Jan 1, 2016. 

BIG NEWS. I’ve been hard at work on a three EP series called UNENDING BLAZE. The first installment comes out on January 1st. The new single, "Mind Moves The Mountain" is streaming above. And you can see Height later this month: 
1/25 - Detroit, MI - UFO Factory
Throughout the spring and early summer, Height was an ambitious cross-country RAP ROUND ROBIN tour with Detroit's Passalacqua and Baltimore's Eze Jackson. At each stop, the trio of hip-hop acts would engage up to 3 other regional rap, electronica or soul groups and spin the bottle, so to speak, with a roulette of recitals around the performance space. 

"The Rap Round Robin tour was a big part of my life this past year," Keech said. "I was doing a singular performance with truly elite rappers, and not just in terms of their bars, but the whole picture.... It made me learn a lot. One realization was that rap isn’t where my strength currently lies. I realized that some of the more straight-up rap stuff in my set was just there to keep the crowd moving, and was left over from an older era." 

As you can hear on "Mind Moves The Mountain," the more multifaceted emcee is exploring more of an art-pop trip, with a caustic-punk/blues edge. What's evident with this song (and with the songs to come via Unending), is that Keech is essentially hitting a creative reset-button. He's exploring the soulfully restorative (and discouragement-battling) powers of mind-over-matter, while also ruminating on the daunting cognizance of one's own mortality. Inevitably, the past year and a half's developing uprising in his hometown of Baltimore (post-Freddie Gray) also played a factor in influencing Keech's more mindful lyrics, this time around. 

"In the past, I’ve felt pressure to keep some hip-hop touchstones in my set," Keech admitted, "but I’m not sure why… I guess to impress the crowd? To show versatility...? That RAP ROUND ROBIN tour demanded that you do you and only you, to the highest extreme. I have some songs that I think of as my fun/lighthearted party songs, but they would feel futile after Passalacqua does “Other Thing.” I have some songs where I try to convey a straightforward and literal message, but that felt phoney right after an Eze Jackson tune." 

Keech said he'd felt as though he's always been turning musical 180's, with beats (instead of a bmx). Some of his albums had battle raps, others featured guitar-based music and others, still, were throw backs to a more old-school sound. And that versatility is generally a good thing for an artist, no doubt. But the RAP ROUND ROBIN clarified some things for Keech. "I didn’t want to be the guy that does a little bit of everything forever...."

The tour left me asking a lot of questions, but the biggest one was… What’s my point? I came home feeling like playtime is over.. It’s time to do something with one focus, that’s all my own, and make it be enough of what it is that I can make people feel it." 

Look for Height at the UFO Factory on Jan 25

Monday, December 28, 2015

Year Rap Up: Microphone Phelps / Doc Illingsworth / Never Say Die MI

Only a few grains of sand left tumbling through 2015's hourglass...

Some may already be hyperventilating over which party to go to on the big night, this Thursday (...or how many parties, for that matter, can we possibly hop to inside a 5-hour window?) Let's just relax and, instead, ruminate upon what lies ahead, in 2016.

We just previewed DjKage's upcoming project D-Imports Vol.2  which comes out Jan. 28th

But here's a new track from Microphone Phelps (of Cold Men Young).

Mic Phelps had a release show last august for his superb Welcome To The Attic EP. But recently, he's hooked up with burgeoning producer Nolan The Ninja for a new song (streaming above) ("I don't know it all but I just know that I know how to write...What's a show without a mic...")

This is just one facet of his new tape titled The Wave 3 - listen here

Phelps continues his knack for kinetic grooves and relentless (& graceful) verbiage, trundling words out swiftly, with vitriol and catharsis curled by catchy hooks and measured flairs of soulful melody. Over the years, he's found a way to weave autobiography into sentiments that speak for a collective state of disenchantment or a worn-yet-ever-unflinching resolve.  The Wave 3 drops at midnight on 12/31. 


Doc Illingsworth, meanwhile... put out a full length back in November, via Fat Beats.
Worth The Wait review by ASSEMBLE Sound. 

But a couple weeks ago, Illingsworth released even more music. Not that this is terribly uncommon for the Detroit based producer. I think he averages at least 24-36 solo tracks dropped per year, if not more so (not counting other various collaborations). That said, the typically industrious producer "went dark" for a few months during the build up toward Worth The Wait. The wait for more music from Illingsworth seems to be over, with this special 4-song EP, Sooner or Later, serving to celebrate & prop the recently launched music site Never Say Die MI. - Anticipate exclusive premiers from Michigan artists, cool videos, news about upcoming projects and more... 

Here's Doc


What else can we look forward to in 2016?
How about a mega showcase of local hip-hop talents that also serves as an endearing ode to racial unity. The Oreo Show, despite its facetious title, is a sincere celebration of an artform's ability to create harmony through the black/white rap duo collaboration. Stay tuned. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

"Song of Victory" from D-Imports Vol. 2

Many have been asking me: Hey, Milo...what are you looking forward to in 2016?

While that could be a long list, I'm thinking the top spot will go to djkage's D-Imports Vol. 2. We can throw around superlatives like "greatest" or "ultimate" or even "definitive..." But, really, when you're looking to curate a compilation, why not try to arrange as many of the most talented artists you possibly can find... 33 artists, 25 tracks, ranging from leftfield hip-hop, to post-trap, to soulful indie-hop, boom-bap and even shades of techno.

Take a look...

What's evident, so far, is that the ensemble of individual MCs working with djkage fittingly charged up for the occasion...

Passalacqua's "Peace Zone" already premiered via Never Say Die and the Metro Times already wrote an in-depth review of the tracks.

But we're here to let your ears in on another exclusive premier from D-Imports Vol. 2

"Song of Victory" features Valid, Ron D, Negus Arubis & Mic Phelps. It's a slow-stomping, propulsive track with fiery delivery, blasted with brass and scorching forth with that chest-thumping beat. "Song of Victory" feels triumphant and celebratory, but also declarative; an inventive blend of funk, big-band jazz, reggae and world music, with Mic Phelps taking it into high gear just pass the bridge.

D-Imports will be officially released on January 28, 2016.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Time Laps (Fat Finger Cosmic)

It's been a helluva year for Dial81 (aka Blair French) and Eddie Logix. The pair put out an ambitious collection of ambient work, as a producer-duo calling themselves BLKSHRK back in the autumn. The respective producers have been keeping busy with their own solo projects and various other collaborations with artists from around the region.

Last week, French released a new compilation of music through his label Fat Finger Cosmic. 

With the goal of being "genre-free," French curated a showcase of artists with backgrounds ranging from electronica to jazz, hip-hop to techno to pop/rock. French and Logix are just two of more than a dozen artists involved with this production. The theme here is attaining maximal amounts of sensory stimulation evoked from minimal instrumentation and sparse atmospherics. Loops, modulated-pitches, screwed-up rhythmic samples, trilling vibrato, trippy oscillations... transformative oscillations... Time laps... 

Time laps captures that essence of losing yourself inside of a piece of music. And, I'm speaking to you, the listener. To where seven minutes pass but it feels like 30 seconds... Or vice versa. The marvel of experimental ambient compositions like these is that they can take the listener inside of themselves, in a very dreamy meditative state, and yet also spark a sense of expansive, enveloping space, a grandness and an airiness surrounding ones headphone-clasped skull. They call it dream pop because it defies conventional structures and thus sounds not of this world...And yet you close your eyes and see imagery that is eerily familiar, despite it's fantastical amorphousness.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Matthew Milia mixtape

I am home from war or some tour of some blurry life 

Matthew Milia is in a constant state of reflection and travel. I imagine him in a passenger seat, often, with his eyes gazing back into his own eyes from the sideview mirror and the road blurring by beneath him as the band, Frontier Ruckus, in which he sings, plays guitar and writes lyrics, heads on to their next tour stop. That reflecting, though, isn't really in a mirror, it all gets spilled onto notebook paper. It's all in his words. Beyond that, it's also in his head. In Milia's head, a storm of words get sorted into jet streams and then they get keenly curled, bent and whipped into interestingly melodic flows. That's when he picks up a guitar and presses record....

Listen to Milia's latest mixtape HERE

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Switchboard Infinity

Calling out all the podcastic-ecstatics out there...

Whether you're a Radiolab-rat or a serial Serial listener, there's something new being produced right here in Detroit that I'm positively enchanted by...
The Switchboard Infinity

Gather the whimsy of B-movie 50's sci-fi adventures and pack in the off-kilter surrealism and intrigue of a David Lynch film and color it with neon in your mind to transfuse it into a cartoon-ish soap opera and you've got The Switchboard Infinity...

In the nostalgic yet no-less-thrilling vein of seminal old-timey radio theater, a cadre of creative writers, producers and actors known as the Erie Canal Theatre started "Switchboard Infinity" towards the end of last summer and have been regularly adding new episodes to their sci-fi radio serial.
The Switchboard Infinity is produced in Detroit, using a combination of theatrical improv and extensive sound-design. (So, Prairie Home Companion melded with Second City and a bit of Ben Burtt-ish inventiveness).

This Theatre "sends" each of their episodes down said Erie Canal toward WFMU in New Jersey, where DJ Stashu presents them on her radio show, "Dance With Me, Stanley."

Be ready for sporadic rug-out-from-under-you gear-changes typical to improv, along with the surrealist and high-strung hijinx of a Terry Gilliam-type that revels in mining the curious center of a dread/humor Venn Diagram. There is an Odyssey-esque narrative of space travel rife with vivid and strange characters, lifeforms and robots, tumbling you through several vessels, stadiums and alien plains. Both the sound design and the voice acting are first-rate, the former displaying a knack for imaginative noise that can evoke a range of settings and senses, from intricate locations' unique acoustics to believable robot-voices, while the latter is full bore into the theatrics, no matter how ridiculous they may be, the expressiveness has vigor and they sound simply immersed into their characters, however strange they may be...

Did I mention that they produce these shows from scratch...? Each week? Production days are at the end of each week and the ten members gather to go over the most recent episode and then begin brainstorming (guided by head writer & director Mike McGettigan) and developing scenes for the next episode. Technical director/sound-designer Clark Eagling, assistant director/sound-designer Jeff Jimison and executive producer Joseph Krause all have backgrounds in audio production. "We've all done recording, music or sound design in the past," said Krause, who has created several songs with Jimison for a band called Zelda and the Unibrows.

"I can get a bit giddy, in general, when thinking about all the sound 'recipes' for the various elements within the Switchboard universe," Jimison said. "The door sounds are a combination of an industrial line boring machine and a dog's squeaky toy. The Followbot is basically one part waving a propane torch around, one part me humming-and-whistling, and another part utilizing an oscillating desk fan, all run through a tremolo filter to give it that high-speed fan blade effect."

Jimison told us about the effects used for one character known as Brendy the Robot: "Her layers are particularly fun. I imagined her as a robot bartender and flight attendant. Naturally she has a beverage cart, which I picture as being sort of a permanent part of her body, so she's ALWAYS pushing the cart. Using her two large servo legs with suction cup feet. I accidentally pulled a couple tiles off of my basement floor with a (I should note: new, unused) plunger while capturing the sound of her suction cups. So Brendy's recipe has the plunger, plus she has a dash of Laser-Engraver-Table-Adjustment-Servo, a pinch of rattling glassware, and all manner of rapidly depressurizing beverage containers."

"Sparking electricity LOOKS incredible," Jimison acknowledged, "...but the recording of it just sounds like close-up celophane! So in these instances, we generally turn to mouth sounds..."

"The four of us came up with the concept and the story arc around the dining room table one night," Krause said.

The rest of the cast/crew include Nicole Pascaretta, Joel Gray, Nicholas Bitonti, Adrianne Johnston and Josh Campos. On show days, after McGettigan directs some brainstorming, Gray and Pascaretta take notes as everyone throws around some more ideas, leading to a bulleted outline of "beats" for the show, resembling, thus, the closest thing they have to a script.

"So our framework tries to hold it together but things still break away from it," said Krause. "We also keep a “show bible” so any scifi words that people make up are consistent in the universe. Sometimes misspoken lines become part of that. In episode six, (Jimison) says “architectural hub” when he means “agricultural hub”. So we’re running with that. We now have in our minds exactly what he meant by “architectural hub”, but it’s not clear that we’ll need to reveal that in the show. That’s part of the yes-and of improv. Mistakes aren’t really mistakes."

"(Switchboard Infinity) is about fun," said Krause. "But, then again, (after 7 episodes) the death toll in the show is really high. (Our) inspirations definitely overlap...lots of old radio drama, including Mercury Theater and The War of the Worlds, Gilliam, Firesign Theatre, Stan Freberg..."

The Erie Canal Theater is wrapping up its first season soon of Switchboard soon. They'll be taking a well-deserved break before coming back for season 2 (giving you ample time to catch up with each exciting 20-minute episode).

"Amazingly, this is all done for zero dollars, but it's still unsustainable," said Krause, who has a media degree from Wayne State and has been working on production (visual/audio) for more than 6 years. <subscribing
!>> "I'm still in a bit of disbelief that people are having so much fun making it; they all jumped at a chance for another season.
Here's the thing though.... The show could really use some more subscribers. Streaming on soundcloud is all well & good, but, assuming you've liked what you've heard so far...consider heading over to iTunes and assimilating...

Erie Canal Theatre on Facebook
Switchboard Infinity on Facebook

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Milo Show

Hey, Milo here...
I'm finally caught up on my writing for the year and can take a moment to properly (and belatedly) introduce THE MILO SHOW.

What's the big idea? I'd say it's lacking any one big idea and is, instead, a capturing of the noisy, funny and awkward essence of several hundred ideas or quips or bits or bad jokes thrumming together like a directionless murmuration over the horizon of the Internet

I'm sitting down, with a couple chairs and a coffee mug, and talking to the creative-types, the musicians, the writers, the makers, the doers, the noise-makers, the thinkers, the cultural contributors and the charismatic quirkoids of the SE Michigan arts environment.... Unscripted. Raw. Subtle. Mellow. Funny? Insightful...sometimes profound.... Or, eventually: Profound!

Couple interviews, a few live bands...We'll see what we can do!

Thanks for watching!
Episode 4 features Eddie Logix, Jim Cherewick, The Rogue Satellites and Found Sound/Tool&Die's Chris Butterfield. Debuting Jan 1....

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Blueflowers (Interview) Performing Saturday for a Very Gangplank Christmas

The Blueflowers’ Western-gothic, Folk-noir, Surrealist Americana and so much more
Saturday @ The Loving Touch
A Very Gangplank Christmas
a benefit concert for 
featuring: Duende! / David Bierman Overdrive / Yum
American Mars / The Blueflowers / Old Empire / Augie & the Heartless Sons
Ethan Daniel Davidson / LaSalle / Dan John Miller / Touch The Clouds

pictured: from left ascending up: David Johnson, Jim Faulkner, Erin Williams, Erica Stephens / bottom/center: Kate Hinote & Tony Hamera

I caught up with singer Kate Hinote from The Blueflowers, chatting about the upcoming Gangplank Records Holiday Benefit Concert and a special Acoustic Showcase coming later on in Winter...

The Blueflowers make country-rock in the same way David Lynch once made a soap opera. The configurations and certain thematic elements are familiar but there’s something supernatural just below its surface, something bewitching pulling you into their sublimely shifted world of Americana-twang, like these could easily be ghost stories as much as they could be torch ballads.

The Ferndale-area sextet will rock a local label showcase (Gangplank Records) at The Loving Touch this Saturday as a way to cap off a very busy year that started all the way back at the end of 2014, when they released their most captivating album to date At The Edge of Disaster. 

Though the band is planning on taking the winter off from performing, its lead singer and co-founder Kate Hinote is planning a special Acoustic Showcase at the Rustbelt Market this February.

More about the Blueflowers, though; there’s a twinge of Western-twang in there, as we’d mentioned, but also some other piquant portions that invoke surf-rock (like something you’d hear on the Pulp Fictionsoundtrack), and a keen retcon of dream-pop (as if Mazzy Star’s eloquence was cannonballed into the glammed whimsy of The Sundays or Echo & The Bunnymen). But even then, it’s bit more eclectic than all that. You could call it “folk-noir” or “western-gothic.”

The band includes Hinote on lead vocals, her husband, Tony Hamera on electric guitar, Erica Stephens on bass, David Johnson on acoustic guitar, Jim Faulkner on drums and Erin Williams on organ and backing vocals. They morphed out of a previous project between married songwriting duo Hamera & Hinote (called Ether Aura). They put out their first album as The Blueflowers in 2009 and the current lineup solidified by the end of 2011.

Milo: Last year’s Edge of Disaster was one hell of an album. A full on production; cinematic-sounding, crisply rendered, evocatively spooky and swooning, altogether. Tell us more of the story behind the recording…
Hinote: I think we knew right away that (Edge) was going to be darker than previous albums, and that we wanted to press it to vinyl. (Hamera) and I were not even remotely prepared for parenthood and the insane sleep-debt and chaos that it would bring, nor for the emotional challenges and rewards that come along with it. We did, however, know we had more music to make and I had so many feelings right at the surface that I absolutely needed an outlet for at that time.

Milo: I was going to ask about that, about what it’s like to have a creative partnership with one’s husband, but I have to imagine new parenthood, by itself, would influence these songs creation…
Hinote: Anyone that knows me would say I can be intense, but being a Mom and being responsible for keeping another human, besides myself, alive, amplified that intensity by 100.  I ended up being drawn to older ideas that Tony had written that had a darker feel to them and I intentionally leaned towards gloomier themes and more dramatic vocal lines and delivery.  I remember vetoing ideas that I thought were “too pretty,” though some pretty things still made their way onto the album. We realized each song wound up with its own sort of character and that the delivery of the vocals was going to be a bigger part of the final production.
And, with (Hamera) and I, that songwriting relationship grows and changes over time. We wrote two albums together as Ether Aura, and now four as Blueflowers. As I gained more experience writing, he would challenge me more with the music demos he would give me and I think, ultimately, Disaster ended up being so intense for us because it really was the most collaborative that we’ve been writing an album. Being in the middle of a creative process like this, though, adds intensity to the day-to-day when you both feel passionately about the work and you’re going to wake up next to that person the next morning. I have never worked harder on anything in my life and Tony feels the same.

Milo: And then, talk about the chemistry between the band, as well as how (Ferndale’s) Tempermill studios is sort of your home recording base.
Hinote: (Hamera)’s been working out of Tempermill longer than I’ve known him, which is 19 years, and (Dave) Feeny has been a wonderful and generous resource to have on our side. [Feeny heads Gangplank Records]. And, there is definitely a family-like dynamic to our band. We have moments where things aren’t all puppies-&-rainbows, just like any family. I mean, you’ve got three women and three men and in that you have two married couples, so in that there are all kinds of chemistry and dynamics and hormones flying about our practice space. As far as song creation, (Hamera)’s the ringleader and he knows what he wants from everybody but each still contributes their own parts and helps shape the dynamics of each song. It has to be made with family. No room for egos in our process; and, we’re fortunate in that that’s not ever been a problem. 

Milo: And so, tell us about your Acoustic Showcase!
Hinote: I wanted a showcase with friends at a venue where people could sit and listen and hear every note yet not have the pressure over worrying about drawing an audience, so that it could be a fun gig. The Rustbelt Market wound up being perfect for this. We’re planning half-hour sets from “The Half Bloofs” (
Hinote, Williams and Johnson), Ryan Dillaha, Anthony Retka, Thirty Men (with Emily Rose), Escaping Pavement, Mike Galbraith and more. Meanwhile, the Bloofs will be coming back in April and we’re thinking about releasing a digital single.

ALSOCheck it out on February 7th @ the Rustbelt Market: Winter Acoustic Showcase: BlueflowersAcoustic Trio, Anthony Retka, Ryan Dillaha, Escaping Pavement, Mike Galbraith, Thirty Men & More1 – 6 pm / free / 22801 Woodward Ave

Listen at:

Monday, December 7, 2015

x2015: Top 10 favorite songs

Presented in no particular order, my Top 10 favorite songs of 2015.
by: Thomas Matich

X- Fort Romeau "Cloche" -- from the album Insides -- Ghostly International 2015.

This song comes from what is probably my vote for favorite album as well. Such an easy, yet continuous sonically rewarding and surprising album with deep mysterious groves and woven nuance. At times an updated version of Patrick Cowley's more dark disco -- and at others it sounds right at home with best of Detroit and Chicago's classic house and techno.

 X - Future "Fuck Up Some Commas" -- from the album DS2 -- A1 Recordings/ Freebandz/ Epic Records 2015 (and 2014's "Monster" mixtape)

Future is the present, the zeitgeist of mainstream hip-hop music. Along with his collaborative album with Drake, What a Time to Be Alive, this is the soundtrack of championship winning champagne popping. It feels as dazzling as a crazy deep Steph Curry three, and a glance at Future's x's and o's may leave you dumbfounded as to how this works -- but it does. Swish -- hands up in the air!

 X - Disclosure "Holding On" featuring Gregory Porter -- from the album Caracal -- PMR/Island 2015

This is gospel right here.

 X - Big Sean "All Your Fault" featuring KanYe West -- from the album Dark Sky Paradise -- Def Jam 2015

Whether it's on his own songs or others, Big Sean is best in a teammate role. Just as much a KanYe West song as a Big Sean one, there is a spontaneous joy here -- as if they had just as much fun in the studio making this track as it has been to listen to this joint all year long.

X - Kendrick Lamar "Alright" -- from the album To Pimp a Butterfly -- TDE/Aftermath/Interscope 2015

It's hard not to mention To Pimp a Butterfly. And to me, this is the stand-out track.

X - D'Angelo "The Charade" - from the album Black Messiah -- RCA Records 2014

A sneak attack release by D'Angelo at the end of 2014, the music was caught up with the politics of police brutality -- but like Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" songs like "The Charade" are brilliant, timeless tracks for headlines not even written yet.

X - Baio "Sister of Pearl" from the album The Names -- Glassnote Recordings 2015

Chris Baio (and yes, he is related to this guy) is one of the chaps from Vampire Weekend, and "Sister of Pearl" is a delicious throwback to VW's earlier records. Insanely catchy and melodic.

X - Holly Herndon "Interference" from the album Platform -- 4AD 2015

Although Herndon could be categorized as an avant-garde composer, "Interference" is a sort of Kubrick-ian sci-fi cut that has just enough pop to fill a dance floor.

X - Jamie xx "Loud Places" from the album In Colour -- Young Turks 2015

A melancholy monster jam that could only come from the minds of the xx. The album is very strong, one of the year's best.

X - New Order "Restless" from the album Music Complete -- Mute 2015

In what feels like a long lost sequel to "Regret,"  "Restless" is perhaps the best New Order song in over 20 years -- even without Hooky.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Music I listened to in 2015 (Detroit/Michigan)...... Part 3

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Music I Listened To in 2015... (Detroit/Michigan) Part 2

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Music I listened to in 2015......... (Detroit / Michigan) PART 1

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Mittenfest X (uncut)

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo by Erik Granning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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