Friday, January 30, 2015

Heart String Soul by Ryan Allen & His Extra Arms (Album Preview)

Ryan Allen's been singing and shredding out pure indie-pop songs for nearly ten years with bands like Friendly Foes, Destroy This Place and his solo set Ryan Allen & His Extra Arms... 

Before that, though, he was a young turk tumbling into the Detroit scene during the early 00's just as "garage-rock" branding was becoming passe and he started specializing in what Pitchfork would call "spaz-punk..." That, namely, was Thunderbirds Are Now, a rock quartet that cut the breaklines of their tempos and sped up the snarl and frazzle-fits of punk until it crashed into the guitar-splattered wall of indie-rock, essentially a more noodly-legged remedy reacting against the static-stance of new-millennial shoegaze-types like Interpol.

I can't help getting that vision of Ryan and his brother Scott and TAN from a show I foggily recall, ten years ago, on the outskirts of Michigan State's campus, the pair of them in constant motion as if their recital were a game of freeze-tag they were intent on winning. Oh, and it was loud. Lots of feedback too...

But this is Ryan Allen's all-grown-up-now record...the record he couldn't have made without all the wild, senseless, exciting, stressful, wonderful experiences of the last 15 years, many of which are lyrically recounted on the songs of Heart String Soul.

Some songs are softer, minimalist vocal-pop settlers for the contemplative evenings while others are aerobic blare-outs for showcasing his sustained abilities for a great guitar solo. Richly resonant acoustic guitars strum and unspool under sentimental folk-pop lyrics charmed with a wry self-deprecation dropping dates and venues, offsetting events and licked wounds from lessons-learned. Other jams, meanwhile, continue the surfy tempos and jangly guitars that all but punch their hooky riffs into you under his characteristically high and hazy singing voice.

But this time, not only are those electric guitar "freakouts" displaying a more focused aggression in their crescendos, his lyrics are some of the most manifestly autobiographical & heart-on-the-sleeve I've heard in a while... Ryan sings both to the defiant youths who are now coming up behind him as well as appealing to his reflective nostalgics who remember music magazines and cassette tapes, a meditation on how those exciting and hot-headed days are long gone that seeks to emboss the self-actualizing work it hath wrought upon him, now that he's on the "wrong side of" 30 with a life and a family... The lyrics, sung straight from the heart and seeming plucked from his happiest emotions to his most nerve-wracking anxieties, come straight from the heart...(all puns intended, re: album title).

There's honesty here that was lacking in his past songs; whereas he might've penned lyrics with a cryptic wink encoded with scenster slang in the past, he's looking the listener straight in the eye now, telling him in plain English his thoughts and revelations, still cadenced, of course, to a buoyantly catchy melody and belted out with breathless passion.

Perhaps the much-younger Ryan would roll his eyes and consider some of these songs overly sentimental... But that doesn't seem to matter to present-day Ryan. There's a new kinda comfort and coolness here that doesn't seem to care about quips from the comment bin.

There's a song for his parents (and by extension, a song for his brother), a song for his young son and, streaming below, a song for his wife. Not only is he honest and, by extension, more confident in his words, he's also unafraid to take jabs at himself and that's achieved best by his self-referential "Should Be Me," (also streaming).

Songs (Heart String Soul)

The songs feel right, and they come straight from my heart. --Ryan Allen on Heart String Soul

Andy Reed (Verve Pipe) mixed and mastered the album on analog equipment and it will be released via Allen's own Two Brains Records. The album comes out physically (CD) and digitally on March 25.


Friday, January 23, 2015

Weekend Songs: The Witches, Moonwalks, Ill Itches, Santiparro

Songs I can't get out of my head...for the weekend of January 23

1.) The Witches - "Perfect Monster"

The first Michigan band I interviewed, the first Michigan band that both inspired and haunted me so much so that I was drawn, like a stumbling zombie toward the gothic manor of Bela Lugosi, into the surreal worlds they brought into existence with their psychedelically-crunched bubble-gum grit and grime, glorifying midnight monster movie aesthetics and pondering the the lives and the loves that could be wrought and won in some fantastic spirit realm.

2.) The Moonwalks - "Sheiks"

I'm three months late on this Detroit quartet's EP (which already got buzz from CREEM Magazine), but, then, I'm could also two months early for their first full length (coming sometime in the late winter of this year). "Shieks" reverb-wrapped guitar slithers and chirps over weaving, punchy beats and echo-quavered vocals, conjuring a neon blacklight basement space-out in an incense-clouded clubhouse, a coo cloister at edge of the vast, mirage-filled desert of psych-pop.

Moonwalks join a line up for the new Seraphine Collective residency, "Last Thursday" at PJ's Lager House, featuring Prude Boys, Best Exes (Jim Cherewick & Linda Ann Jordan) and Rebel Kind, January 29. Info:

3.) Ill Itches - "Hallelujah"

Ill Itches guitarist Josh Woodcock and YUM's singer/guitarist Elise Poirer are headed to Japan this season. They will be greatly missed.
This show, featuring Citizen Smile, Nigel & The Dropout, YUM and Le Voyage  is a going-away party as well as a grander nod to the bond these bands have  built over the last year & a half through various shows throughout the region. January 31 at The Loving Touch, info here 

4.) Santiparro - "The Benefit Of Confrontation"

Michigan's own Santaparro Alan Scheurmann will be releasing a long awaited full length album next month titled True Prayer. (February 12 on Gnome Life Record). This startling and beautiful album is filled with revelation and insight, sung in a soft, creaky voice emanating like a calm brook or the soft waves of a spring wind, written from the mind/soul & heart of a man whose experienced several life changing experiences over the last six years. While the themes and subjects treated involve shamanic ceremonies and roadmaps through the spirit world, it's also an exemplary addition to the cerebral genre of psychedleic folk music, soothing, engaging...and, if one listens intently enough, enlightening. Santiparro means "the lens that sees things not usually seen..."
This song features Will Oldham (Bonnie "Prince" Billy), with other contributors on the album including Kip Malone (TV On The Radio), Adam Wills (Bear In Heaven) and more

Suggested reading: Phreddy Wischusen's heartfelt essay leading up to the completion of this record from 2014.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Vaselines

Among the handful of artists (Raincoats, Meat Puppets, Daniel Johnston,) that the grunge messiah (Kurt Cobain) championed, The Vaselines won the title of being his "favorite songwriters in the world." Nirvana went on to cover three of the Glasgow duo's songs. Praise from that era's contemporary Caesar, more or less...but songwriting duo Francis McKee and Eugene Kelly, having started The Vaselines almost 30 years ago, have earned the acclaim with their most recent V For Vaselines (Sub Pop). 

Expanding (and lightening) the filled-out pop/rock sound of 2011's Sex With An X, Kelly and McKee bring crunchy, driving guitar chords, upbeat tempos and breezy melodies into an overcast cloud of coolness with hazes of distortion and raw riffs. With V, they continue to utilize the pleasing counter melody of their complimentary voices sewing throwbackish pop melodies to strutting beats, in and out in just three minutes, most of the time. Certainly evolved beyond their original lo-fi aesthetic, sweet, swaying lullabies like "Single Spies," with it's willowy guitars and delicate chimes, are like downplayed bursts of sunlight.

The Vaselines perform at Ferndale's The Loving Touch Tuesday evening with Amanda X.   Info:

Friday, January 16, 2015

Weekend Songs: Gosh Pith, Viet Cong, The Dodos

Songs I can't get out of my head for this weekend, January 16th

Gosh Pith - "Window"
Gosh Pith's latest starts out soft, slow and small... till the clanging percussion claps in and the echo-blurred vocals crackle onto the soundscape in that characteristic whisper-croon that these two young groove-pop prodigies have been perfecting over their first year & a half of existence. Sequenced beats and dreamy synths have been a calling card for them, but on this track, along with that charming bouncing ball rhythmic hook after the second chorus, they allow some other elements, namely that syrupy-static fuzzed guitar, to shine...

Gosh Pith perform Friday, Jan 16 at Arbor Vitae (336 1/2  S. State Street) @ 9PM
with Man Vs. Indian Man, Little Animal and Jonah Baseball. Info:

Viet Cong - "Bunker Buster"
The gaunt guitars are so caustic and terse they all but take the wind out of you, a droning feedback fills any open spaces between verses while the vocals, delivered with half a sneer and half a howl, find that supernatural sweet-spot between post-punk yowling and new-wave crooning. The musical bedrock of the song, though, has an uncannily enticing pallor to it, with all it's keys bent towards an atonal minor murk... For those lovers of ol' timey Gang Of Four and the darker shit from Liars and Interpol...this is the band you've been...oh you know how the cliche goes.... waiting for...

Viet Cong are starting a UK tour, soon. More info on their self-titled debut here:

The Dodos - "Competition"
This indie-rock duo dropped this single at the end of 2014, but it bares re-spinning (in case you missed it). The wailing whip of the guitars around the corners of the verse and through the bridge, the hyper-fast percussion kicking along under the word-packed vocals (harmonized nicely, per their signature singing approach), with an ebullient vocal melody waving its way through the chorus. Put the headphones on and listen to just how much janglin' is going on in those furiously strummed acoustic guitars...

The Dodos will come to Ann Arbor, MI in March
Playing The Blind Pig on March 5 with Springtime Carnivore

Speaking of Springtime Carnivore...that's another one of my favorite late-2014 finds...
Try and get this whistled melody out of your head... The soft strings bending through the verses over those strutting drums, jaunty pianos and just enough reverb reared over the soft vocals... Makes January feel like early September...

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Last Stop Sundays (presented by At Willoughby)

Jan. 27 @ The Berkley Front

Ceremonies, however, subtle or casual, can supplement the certain camaraderie intrinsic to the idealization of "...a scene." Well aware that, to establish your foot print on the scene, you the band, will have to hit the usual circuit of bars/venues and play amped up music under boomlights, often expected to scream your head off, break a few strings and drop some sweat on the wooden stage. 

Every now and then we need a slightly different atmosphere to be struck, though, at these "ceremonies" of ours... We need opportunities for these bands to show some of the other sides of their songwriting or performing styles... 

The first in a new series of monthly concerts can offer that... 
Alan Sowinski, singer/songwriter who records/performs under the moniker At Willoughby, spearheaded the Last Stop Sunday's series -to be hosted on the final weekend of every month at the Berkley Front. 

Yes, it's a "school night" for us, but the event will be early: 6 - 9 pm / $4 at the door. And the vibe will be much more chill than the tacit dress-to-impress posturing that can inevitably be struck up by the fast-blast boogies of an electric Saturday show. 

The idea is to give bands and individual songwriters to try something different, be that unplugging and going acoustic or bringing out some new or forgotten songs that they were heretofore hesitating to try out during a typical electric-set...

Sowinski has been writing, recording and performing as At Willoughby for several years, but this gesture is one of his biggest forays into the scene to date. Expect to see him out, performing live, much more often in 2015. 

He kicks off the first Last Stop Sunday with singer/songwriter Jeff Howitt (from Duende), Adam (from Futurebabes) and Poor Bastard (featuring Jaye Allen Thomas of Rogue Satellites and Serene Arena from Dutch Pink). 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Music Videos

Oscillating Fan Club - "To The Dogs"

The Oscillating Fan Club sounds via bandcamp

Mic Write and Doss The Artist - "H.O.M.E.S."

Mic Write latest, Code Green via bandcamp

Gosh Pith - "Smoke Bellow"

An article on Gosh Pith and their upcoming show in Ann Arbor, here:

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Secret Friends Fest part deux - Fri/Sat (Loving Touch)

"Secretly..." says Jason Stollsteimer, "everyone who goes out to a show wants the same thing..." 

Whether they know it or not, showgoers and bands, audience and performer alike, want to tie themselves into an ineffable experience, something to be shared in a darkened environment where there isn't the scrutiny of fluorescent lights, no tacit demand for polite demeanor or the tense guard of minding P's and Q's or even a need to seem normal so that the rest of the bustling workaday rat runners don't look at you funny... 

And it's an experience, a place, a destination that's benefited by the ideal soundtrack. The best songs, the loudest songs, passionately performed by those whom you consider to be your true friends or your... "Secret Friends." The Friends you meet out here, after hours, away from work, away from the bills you pay in the morning, away from the bull shit that stresses you out in the afternoon... 

"Everyone wants to have fun," said Stollsteimer, a longtime fixture of the Detroit rock scene with bands like The Hounds Below, Von Bondies and, recently, PONYSHOW. "Everyone wants to meet new people, forget about your day, whether work or school or whatever and to discover new things together, be they another band or another person to fall in love with..." 

Jason Stollsteimer has organized the 2nd annual Secret Friends Fest after the success of last year, hosted right around this time of year at The Loving Touch. "Last year worked great, both nights sold out." The lineup for this Secret Friends Fest Part Deux, happening Friday and Saturday at the Loving Touch, is listed below. "The goal last year, besides just having fun, was to introduce out-of-state bands to Michigan bands." 

Twin Peaks comes to us from Illinois, Max Jury is from Iowa, Nox Boys from Pennsylvania and Brian Olive from Ohio... Just for starters.Then, Detroit fans will be treated by notable neighbors like Mexican Knives, Eleanora Nigel & The Dropout (pictured above,) and, from as far out as Grand Rapids, Valentiger
Two nights; 20 bands; secret friends. 

"It's eight bucks per night," said Stollsteimer. "That's .6666 cents / band if you go both nights!"  

It's a night to build bridges between varying scenes across state borders; a chance to remember that the tired cliche of competition, edging another band out for the glory of being the biggest band in the scene should be set aside in an era of Internet-whimsicality that finds the DIY artist as uncertain as ever and, hence, in need of as many "friends" as possible. A night, as Stollsteimer put it, to just remember why you go out to these shows in the first place...

Secret Friends Fest Part Deux 

JAN 9th
Doors at 8pm

Main Stage
12:45am -Mexican knives
11:30pm - Brian olive (OH)
10:30pm - Siamese
9:30pm - Eleanora

Side Stage
12:15am - Nigel & the dropout
11pm - Blaire alise & the bombshells
10pm - Vamos (IL)
9pm - Little Animal

JAN 10th
Doors at 6pm

Main Stage
12:30am - Twin peaks (IL)
11:30pm - Valley hush
10:30pm - Cold blood club (NY)
9:30pm - Maxwell jury (IA)
8:30pm - Valentiger
7:30pm - Mover//Shaker

Side Stage
12am - Moonwalks
10pm - Dead broke (CAN)
9pm - Nox boys (PA)
8pm - Darn wishes
7pm - Pines

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Let Us Listen To Music

Another blank slate.
Back to the first track. Side one.

Let us channel benevolence. Let us remember to breathe as deeply as we can every other half hour.

Let us listen to music... for as long as we can... and not begrudge the deadline that pulls you away from your solace(s). Solace can be anywhere, if you perfect a certain internal procedure of tuning out the harmful inconsequentialities, the ubiquitous spirit gnawing swarms of ineffable discouragementors... 

Let us remember, try to remember... that we all mean well, most of us anyways.

Let us aspire to something more than like-ing what each of us are doing and, hopefully, sharing, actually sharing in what we're doing...building toward something.

Let us keep on pushing, against the boulder of this day and the next day. Let us be able to stop and stretch and ....remember: breathe as deeply as we can...

Let us remember how much of the hassleeations and tessellations and situations can be put on hold, when at all possible.

Let us listen to music. Let us remember to listen to music. Let us quote lyrics and get lost in the delicious drones or taken away by cheery chimes, or those beats, let us be taken by those drum beats...

So this is the new year...