Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tart: These Are Not Love Songs

Tart is not (merely) a pop duo and these new tracks are not love songs...

Who wants their music pre-packaged into such a cramped categorical cube?

Despite their minimalist set up, the Detroit-based duo of singer/lyricist Zee Bricker and guitarist Adam Michael Lee Padden are showing a lot more breadth on their second EP These Are Not Love Songs, finding a way to fill out the sound with more samples, sleeker percussive arrangements, richer harmonic layers and an even stronger vocal delivery (by Bricker), crisply captured by producer John Smerek.

There's more punch (with opener "Buzz" revving with a clenched riff and a twitchy, quavering vocal delivery) and more pared back poignancy (somber, star-gazing slowdancer of a closer with "Stasis"). The cardio-kick-up of those techno-inclined dance-club drum samples have tightened up under Padden's acrobatics (some strange bridge between the celestial barrel-rolls of a Jonny Greenwood and the smooth, shimmying funk chording of Niles Rodgers).

Take, for instance, the interesting cycloning riffs that build up and then cascade downward through the chorus of "Hello..." showing a strengthened sense for song craft that builds (and releases) tension.

But then, they're not exactly dance songs, just like they aren't love songs... Call it electro-rock, if you really wanna hang something on it... But then you have the balladry of Bricker that joins the likes of Lykke...Florence...or Zola... able to belt something with so much power and presence and yet keep the vocal melody lithe enough to spring upon the buoyant beat arrangements, pairing a sense for the theatrical with the enticing abandon inherent to a flat-out fun kind of dance-pop jam. Which is so fitting for Tart, because in their first two years they've essentially established a proclivity for encouraging the scenesters to let their hair down a bit, get close, dance... The opposite of "stasis..."


Tart is releasing These Are Not Love Songs on Saturday, July 11 with a concert at The New Dodge Lounge (8850 Jos Camp, Hamtramck) INFOFeaturing: The Handgrenades / Belterra / Fluffer 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Motor City Gear Gala: An Audible Arts & Crafts Fair (Sunday)

Gear adds vibrancy, provides augmentation, widens the scope...

Or it makes you louder. Gives a tone complexity. Allows your voice to echo-(co...co....co....) 

"...with (guitar) pedals..." said local musician Dustin Mclaughlin, "having multiple delays is like having 10 shades of green to choose from... Different colors in your crayon box..." 

"The unique thing about musical gear," said singer/guitarist Jason Stollsteimer (of PONYSHOW), "is that there's always something new and someone's always willing to push the envelope to see what sounds they can create and harness." 

Motor City Gear Gala
June 28 @ The Rust Belt Market (9 Mile & Woodward in Ferndale)
11 am - 6 pm (FREE)
Full line up and more information 
Stollsteimer and Mclaughlin are a pair of particular gearheads who have respectively accumulated considerable collections of equipment, either from certified addictions or just from the passing of time & different bands/tours... 

The Gear Gala they helped organize aims to engage the entire music scene of SE Michigan, not just the hip indie rock groups or the epic psych-rock ceiling shakers, but every musician out there, everyone with a guitar or a mic or a K-Oscillator or a drum machine or whatever...everyone interested in experimentation (or augmentation) of their sound and their songs. Tables are for rent for anyone interested in selling their gear. Professional retailers and repair services will also be at the Gala, equipment ranging from pedals, to cables, recording and guitars. There still might be some time to reserve a table if you email motorcitygeargala@gmail.com right now! 

"I've been paying for multiple storage units full of random pieces of musical gear for years," said Stollsteimer. "It was time to find new homes for said-gear. When I posted on Facebook that I was interested in parting with some of my collection, someone suggested I have a gear show. I immediately thought that my friend (Mclaughlin) might be interested, as he works with & loves pedals. So...we're both hoping, now, that this can be a yearly event." 

The Motor City Gear Gala can bring together not just the collectors but also innovators in new musical gear all based around the Michigan area. 

"Working for a local music retailer and effects-pedal company," said Mclaughlin, "the idea immediately sparked to gather up as many local music equipment manufacturers as possible and do a showcase instead of just a garage-sale type of gear swap (even though that's still part of it!) It's audible arts & crafts fair showcasing specifically local talent." 

The duo hopes to start building a community around gear and sound innovation. "(We'll) get together, share notes, techniques..." said Mclaughlin. "I think there are more than enough manufacturers doing exciting things locally to make an event out of it."

The other intention is to defy typical expectations of a 'guitar show...' "We want the guitar guy to come in and check out Renaud Audio's table and learn about synthesizers," said Mclaughlin. "Or, a young musician can talk with the folks at DIME (Detroit Institute of Music Education) about perusing a professional career in music." He points to Wallace Guitars as just one example for further insight and education, as the green-minded designers use reclaimed, old growth wood from historic buildings in Detroit to make the bodies of their guitars. "They're literally using the roots and foundation of our city to make something musical!" 

So get in touch (via email) or just be sure to swing by the Rust Belt Market this Sunday. The duo, we'll reiterate, are hoping that this can not only become a yearly event, but also build more bridges throughout the scene. 

"From the earliest recordings of putting razorblade slits in your speaker cone to create a distorted effect to recording a vocal track in your tile bathroom to emulate reverb..." Mclaughlin said, "...to the fuzz pedal, the Moog synths, rack gear, the effects pedal boom...all of it. Different shades of expression and the different colors musicians can use to get the sound in their head out onto the canvas is what keeps us inspired." 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Armed - Paradise Day (Release Show June 26)

The Armed
LP Release show (Future Drugs)
June 26
w/ Child Bite and Reverend
@ The Majestic Cafe (9 pm / $7)

Above^ ...dig the new video for Detroit-based punk collective The Armed's "Paradise Day," a single from their Untitled debut album. The Armed's songs are buzzsaw blurs that bludgeon together elements of early 80's hardcore, thrash, pure punk, extreme metal and whole other kind of unique mutation.

This short film showcases the acting chops of Trevor Naud (singer/guitarist from Zoos Of Berlin), embodying a wiry and weird office worker who apparently has a lot of steam to blow off...bwo a karaokee session in which he essentially channels the intense energy of The Armed's music upon a modest stage, forceful enough to fizz up the vigor of every attendee in the room...

You wanna check out more of Untitled's voracious cycloning conniptious cacophonies...? Just go over to their bandcamp. The group recorded with Kurt Ballou (Converge) at his God City Studios (with Baptists' drummer Nick Yacyshyn sitting in with them). The Armed's Untitled, via
No Rest Until Ruin records, will be thunderously celebrated with a release show in Detroit this Friday at The Majestic Cafe. 

More info: https://www.facebook.com/thearmed

Santiparro (VIDEO) "The Benefit Of Confrontation" featuring Will Oldham

Earlier in the year I interviewed singer/songwriter Alan Scheurman about his newest album, released under his recently adopted moniker Santiparro

It was posted in two parts (here and here) via The Ann Arbor Current, online. His journey, spiritually and musically, over the last 5-6 years is intriguing and insightful, particularly the moment where the iconic indie-folk mystic Will Oldham looks him in the eye and instills the last needed shunt of inspiration for him to eventually go off into the wilderness and begin recording inside a cabin... The results of which were True Prayer.

This week, Santiparro released the first music video from the album...

Santiparro "The Benefit Of Confrontation" featuring Will Oldham

In which...Will Oldham (Bonnie 'Prince' Billy) visits Santiparro's wintery cabin for an intimate healing ceremony. 

Director: Ben Dickinson

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Julian Paaige - The Right Kind Of Crazy

Friday June 19
Julian Paaige releases The Right Kind Of Crazy A Masquerade and an Album Release Show hosted at The UFO Factory
ft. an experimental set by Sienna Rise (with Marcie Bolan and Phil Skarich)
9 PM  -  $7  (gets you a mask and a CD) 

...creep folk...creep garage... creep pop... Julian Paaige has reclaimed that off-putting word, mixing it into a precious and enticing sort of decoupage to gloss upon a range of genres, and embodying its original essence... as something that was a bit weirder than weird, something you couldn't pin down, something that hooks you but you can't say why...

"Creep pop just means me, inside..." said Paaige. "The songs come straight from me. If people ask me to describe it I just say it's my insides coming out, trying to put the emotion almost three-dimensional into a song, so it's though you're right there."

 The Right Kind Of Crazy has the instrumentation (organs, pianos, acoustic guitars) of a folk record, but it's wonderfully wrung into an outlandish realm of punk-slung theater passionately belted by a half-crooning, half-yowling minstrel-type. "Duel For Two" has the reverb rumble of surf-rock shuffling in at its opening but it mutates into something more sinister sounding through its punching verses, eventually sweetening (in tone and tempo) into a buoyant throwback-pop ditty in its chorus (albeit with vocals that kiss you with strychnine-smudges on its lips). And so, why is it so enticing to listen to...? It's almost creepy...

"I guess I'm just a dark romantic..." Paaige said. Because, at the end of the day, however eccentric his vision might be, these are still love songs...pop songs, really...

And however strange his take, it still speaks to something primal inside of us...setting his songs to a catchy beat or swayed to an emotive melody, Paaige is rendering his only-slightly-twisted skew on the lovelorn singersongwriter trope.

Paaige recorded these songs with musician George Friend. "It was at his house in Southfield. My guitar amp was in his kids room and drums were in the living room... I'm proud and I do feel like I've grown from the last album. But, I still feel I have lots to improve upon..."

What's striking, what's so catchy...that is...is probably the purity of these songs. They're simple, to the point... What's so creep about that...?? It's just the right kind of crazy...

More info on the release show HERE

Julian Paaige on Facebook

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Landmarks: Aiming High

Friday, June 19
The Blind Pig presents:
Nigel & The Dropout / The Euphorics / Wych Elm / The Landmarks
9:30pm / $5 / (18+)
Been meaning to get an interview with The Landmarks up here... This seemed as good o' time as any; here goes:

Now...think back to the turn of the century… Indie rock was going through a strange new transformation. The cool tantrums and drawling croons of a garage revival were starting to fuse with the more complex phrasings and acrobatic percussion of space & math rock. Then, with synthesizers surging into the equation (and a tacit ingrained urge to find some cheer or, if not, some hope in those bleaker early years of the 21st century), a danceability began forging itself to the feet of this new hybrid sound…

So this new sound, a crashing and dynamic rock energy, catapulted by soaring guitars through glitzy clouds of synthesizers and sweetened with melodies that knew just when to hit those provocative minor keys, began hitting the ear of The Landmarks during their most formative listening years, just on the cusp of college. It wound up significantly influencing the music they'd eventually start writing in 2013. 

Guitarist Jack Uppling acknowledges those origins: “Yeah, the Strokes, Radiohead, Phoenix and Julian Casablancas’ solo stuff are all artists that we all liked. The Killers were definitely an early influence…”

The group came together two years ago in Ann Arbor. Uppling followed the same approach as The Killers and went with a Craigslist ad to get a group together. The urge, for Uppling, was to finally a legitimate, longterm rock band. Each member has been playing music for several years (or longer) but none of them committed those talents to a full time group such as they have with the Landmarks. Uppling, along with drummer Martin Maginity had at least been in a group before but this would be singer Laja Olaiya and bassist Colin Freeman’s first real go at it. The band formed at Freeman’s house on William St in Ann Arbor. Maginity and Freeman are Michiganders born and raised, while Olaiya and Uppling came here from Chicago.

So, listen closer to the rigid/smooth guitar interplay, the kinetic beat and the varyingly swaying and surging vocal delivery, and you can hear elements of new wave pop, digging back from the Phoenix influence and deeper into the roots of a rock sound with a bit more brio to it, ala The Smiths, or The Cure or even some New Order (with those dazzling synths). “It’s hard to choose who to list…” Uppling said.

Check out their latest music video for “Aim High” (from last December’s Schisms EP):

And Olaiya’s bringing a contemplative poet’s side to the verve of his melodic lyrics with Morrissey-esque musings like: “now...I’m struggling with my refracted truth / I’ve compacted subtle ties into a mine of diamonds…” Not bad, for his first band…

“We all kinda do our own thing when it comes to writing the songs,” said Olaiya. “But, when we all meet up and put it together it can be pretty special.”

Olaiya considers that period, early on, when they fell into a workable groove, in terms of collaboratively composing their songs, to be a particularly formative moment for the group.
But, Uppling recalls something else that helped them bond, the inherent energy from a crowd, an energy that they could stoke with their songs but then also feed off of, a primal kind of dialogue between performer and audience. And then, maybe the cops show up…? “We played a Co-Op’s house show in Ann Arbor for hundreds of kids. They were really into it. But, the cops came after we finished our last song… Still, that night was one of the first times we really thought we had something.”

Two years on, the band continues to challenge themselves to write a better, tighter song each time. “Every time we finish a new song,” said Freeman, “it seems to feel different or feel like it's from a whole new band, which is good. We’re always experimenting and trying to get the best out of every song.”

Uppling said that they’ll even play the music of one song and have (Maginity) play the beat for another song, just to try a mash up of their original music. That said, writing songs as a band succeeded in bringing them closer together as bandmates and friends and even fed into a new found confidence “and overall great vibe and timing…” Maginity said, that wasn’t there before.

The Landmarks recently recorded four new songs to follow up Schisms but they’re going to take their time a bit. The plan is to release each as a single, one at a time, streaming online. Then, later in the summer or fall, bring all seven songs together to compile a proper full length debut for an audience that, Uppling hopes, will have only grown over this forthcoming summer.

Though the group is based over in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti area, they’ve said they often feel more at home here during their Detroit shows. “We have still never had someone be rude to us at a Detroit show,” Uppling said, “and…that’s not really always the case with Ann Arbor. We’re definitely not going to give up on the Ann Arbor/Ypsi scene and we think it has tons of potential.” But Detroit, they’ve found, tends to get a bit more amped for a Landmarks live set…that could be the heavier rock element or it could mean one city crowds have less self-restraint than another…? Who needs to start that old debate again…

One thing’s for sure… Detroit certainly has more (actual) landmarks… But let’s just listen to some music, eh?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Appleseed Collective (Playing Ann Arbor Summer Fest Friday)

It’s one thing to play the string band jams of the folk and Americana traditions… The Appleseed Collective enlivens that music and gives it soul. 

The Ann Arbor quartet's percussion ranges from washboard clacks to stand-up bass slaps, hand claps and chiming desk bells, their backing vocals harmonize with a hearty heave under the lead singer’s honkytonk-ish warbling, while a splendid melody is lovingly sewn through an interweaving thread between the guitar, mandolin and violin.  It puts the waltzing spirit in you, makes you want to hike along a woodsy riverside, and incites you to sing along…

This Friday, you can catch The Appleseed Collective at the North University Stage for the 2015 Ann Arbor Summer Festival (8:30 pm).

While the Appleseed Collective’s signature style is exemplary of the swinging string-strumming folk music that embodies much of this annual musical celebration, they are just one of dozens of bands scheduled throughout the month of June, with performances hosted at a handful of stages at the Top Of The Park (N. University, between Fletcher & Thayer in Ann Arbor).

Other features of the AA Summer Fest include an all acoustic stage, a KidZone Tent and screenings of feature films like Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, E.T. and Ghostbusters. Other local folk favorites to catch include October Babies and Fangs and Twang (June 17), Timothy Monger (June 18), Misty Lyn and The Big Beautiful and The Ragbirds (June 23) and many many more. 

Here’s the full schedule: http://a2sf.org/desktop/#top-of-the-park And check out the big name headliners: http://a2sf.org/desktop/#mainstage

Earlier in the year, The Appleseed Collective released a definitive Live Album from a particularly spirited performance at The Ark in Ann Arbor. For more sonic samplings, follow: https://theappleseedcollective.bandcamp.com/album/live-at-the-ark

The Ann Arbor Summer Festival’s Board, Management and Consultants have continued to present this community with an engaging multi-arts festival celebrating both local culture and artistic talent from around the world. The Summer Festival’s mission, a partnership between the city and the University of Michigan for more than 30 years, has always aimed towards enriching the cultural, economic and social vitality of the region. 

AmericaJR has an interview/festival preview for this year via YouTube: https://youtu.be/pEpR0PARjPc

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Good Things

Ryan Cox isn't a songwriter.

Here's a song he wrote:

Ryan Cox isn't a musician... Even though he plays guitar, piano, drums, bass and sings in multiple octaves, harmonizing with himself. And, he isn't a singer, either. Or, so he'll claim. He doesn't consider himself anything like the typical conception of a songwriter, producer, musician or singer...even though he's been honing those crafts for several years now.

"It's a Frankensteinian way of building songs..." Cox said. "It really is much more of a mad scientist tract...I patch things together, recording the parts live and then piecing them all together."

The Good Things is a band, or at least I suppose you could call it that. You'll likely never see them perform live. And by them, I technically am only implying Cox. The 28-year-old writer, teacher, jack-of-all-trades-type, grew up in Michigan and has been spending the last few years taking deep dives into his soul, digging through his past to mine some profound revelations that become rendered into pop songs.

It's a sense of irony that draws him to an ebullient pop song, bursting with its major keys and jaunty tempos. "A lot of the songs, textually, relate to things most often construed as 'downers.' Major keys are typically associated with happiness. Bringing them together is cathartic in a way; it offers perspective. Breaking up can feel like the greatest tragedy ever, but looking at the event from another perspective might lead to a happy sounding sing-a-long, like 'My Wife.'"

Though he's recorded (and re-recorded) a fair amount of songs that feature a complex overlay of vocals, guitars, drums and myriad homespun effects, he's never had any formal training, neither in instrumentation or sound engineering. And yet, these songs have become like his great life's work, a sonic sculpture that he could possibly whittle away at forever, if no one stops him (...if anyone could stop him).

"I have a very complex relationship with recording," Cox says, not specifically referring to his unique methods, but more to the emotional rigors it rolls him through. "A lot of it is driven just by the need to get stuff out of my head, so that they can stop haunting me. It's definitely a therapy. Every record is...like, if you were to dig into them deeper, you'd really just be reading my memoirs."

His methods manifest in extensive and exhaustive sessions, recording, re-recording, adding, subtracting, adding....adding.....adding....and, most of all, figuring it all out on his own, finishing up recordings in a basement, in a closet, in a bedroom, in a laundry room, with his own sound-proofing, his own mics, his own shitty drum kits and his own protools. He already has three albums imagined in his head. One a hallucinogenic Roald Dahlian-meets-David-vs-Goliath fantasy trip, another as a 1940's radio play about a character named Spooky Charlie. They aren't fully written yet or even recorded, but they're in there.

This album isn't a debut, but it still feels like an introduction. Unlike the next EP and full-length that he's currently working on, I Am The Good Things features contributions from Joel Hardin, John Morales, Joseph Krawczak, and Lisa Martin, with one track, "Wasting Time," recorded with Jim Diamond. 

I Am The Good Things has been in the works for a few years, now. The delay has not been entirely due to Cox's half-meticulous/half-haphazard process; it mostly ties directly into his atypical motivations for making music. You see, Cox isn't going to tour, he isn't going to play the Lager House or the Loving Touch and he isn't going to tweet about his music or make a music video. He doesn't want that idealized/coveted lifestyle of touring the country and living off his music for the rest of his life...

The goal, if you'll call it that, is to "quit doing all the other crap that I do that I don't wanna do...which is most things..." as he says.

Now, that sounds familiar, but it's a little more complex than that. Cox's real ambition is to apply to the University of Michigan Writing Program, a terminal Masters of Fine Arts degree. The hope is to sell enough  music online so that he can eventually pay off the rest of his student loans and forge ahead. Not that he has ulterior motives, so to speak, its just that, as I said, he wears a lot of hats. Those hats have caused the delay.

One of those hats Cox wears, from his various degrees, molded him into a writer, a storyteller... Cox has an associates degree in Liberal Arts and Cinematic Arts and a bachelor's in English with a minor in Film Studies. He's got his eye on being a professor, someday. But first things first: he wants a Masters in Creative Writing. Hence, this music...these therapeutic three-minute bursts of sunshine-soaked Brit-pop revivalism...could be a way to get closer to that academic achievement.

He's also a teacher. He tutors regularly and works with local colleges. He's also consistently writing and editing both his own work and the works of others, coordinating a fledgling writers community through monthly or bi-monthly short-story competitions.

Its just that lately, his storyteller-hat has been utilized to foster these vivid and wildly imaginative ideas, veiled metaphors for his own life experience, in song-form, spanning a blend of genres from fantasy, to sci-fi adventures and hard-boiled, film-noirish mysteries. These piano and guitar-centric, hand-clap heavy pop ballads that he's working on are intricately sutured into unconventional song structures with a dazzling, sometimes dizzying patchwork of polyharmonies, doubled drum tracks and detached, tempo-defiant bridges evoking an aural sense of a song within a song. (Or, sometimes, that you are hearing nine voices at once... Wrong, you might be hearing 18 or 19 voices...)

"The music thing is mostly therapeutic," said Cox. "I can't imagine ever making enough money to even make a dent in these student loans, let alone finance any academic future (through music). It would be nice to make enough money from each record to make the next record. Self-sufficient. Since I'm a garbage-popper, my records aren't very expensive to make. They're just time consuming. However, I have been thinking more and more of trying to monetize—or finding someone to try and monetize—my music. It'd be great to find a following of 10,000 people I could sell a $7 record to every other year. I just don't think that is realistic for me and what I do."
The hope is to focus on multiple projects. The conundrum is how to do that in a world where listeners are opting for a streaming-consumption of their music instead of direct support of independent artists. Cox's quirk, and he has many, is that he doesn't just want to do music; and it's not merely a springboard for his admittedly wider-eyed future plans, but just another form of creative expression. 

These songs are the movies in his head, made manifest as though his voice and his hand-claps and his strange scraping sounds of the guitar embodied the smoky gray light of a projector emanating the images and frames of his psychosis, his soul, his life story, his sense of humor...all of it, crammed together in awkward grace, in the form of exuberant pop music.
Because Cox wants to focus on several other projects, including workshops with young artists, young writers, young aspiring filmmakers. He wants to foster that writer's community that's taking root with the Drabble competitions. He just doesn't want to be bored. And, in a way, to only just play music, week to week, show to show, touring, recording...that would be less fulfilling or, rather...boring, to Cox.

Milo: Do you think storytellers are artists?

Cox: Yeah of course

Milo: Would you consider yourself one?

Cox: Nah, that's a trick question. That's fucked up! (laughs) Alright, I guess I have to use the A-word...I don't feel like one. I don't consider myself an artist in terms of what I'm doing...

Milo: And yet if you make an album, it's a work of art

Cox: It's got to be...and also, if it's listed on iTunes, it would say "Artist" as a category. But you know how I am about words and titles and classifications...I don't fit in that world. And I don't see it as a craft...Man, now that you've got me thinking about it, I feel existentially concerned...

Milo: Maybe don't question it. Maybe just go with what works best for you...

Cox: Still trying to figure out what that is...

Milo: What about performing or sharing these songs

Cox: I don't care about playing my own songs. I don't care about playing-songs!

Milo: Do you care about an audience?

Cox: To an extent, but more so, I care about people...

Milo But what is this work saying to someone...It will engage an audience.

Cox: I think I can be selfish about why I do this. It's therapeutic. It's haunting me.  I don't have a choice in some ways. I'm bothered by a melody or something that just has to come out. But I'm considering this financial perspective to music, lately, the need for a target audience...If I'm able to make a record every other year and sell it for $5 per record...that's still plenty then to upgrade toward the next record and still be able to teach in the summer and the fall. I have to consider an audience, now... As far as them getting what I'm intending? It's more just wanting to get it done for me, so it won't bother me....Who am I writing for? I'm not...looking to be commissioned for songs. I'm just looking to be not-bothered by them. Taking a noise and turning it into something you can enjoy for the rest of your life is a cool process!

Milo: What about sharing this enjoyable experience?

Cox: That's hard for me. It's weird...

It is weird. Because I think he might be a savant, a sure-fire pop-song virtuoso, albeit achieved through seemingly implausible, long-way-around implementations of both whimsy and wisdom... And yet, he isn't going to tour and...these songs won't be on your Satellite radio stations, despite how enjoyable they really are... Thankfully I Am The Good Things IS coming out, some way or another, and these songs can be enjoyed.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Pretty Ghouls - Dead At The Dandy Teen Club

Pretty Ghouls EP release show
Saturday June 13
presented by Seraphine Collective
at The Trumbullplex (4210 Trumbull)
ft. Mystery Actions (from Chicago) & JUNGLEFOWL (from Ypsilanti)

Sludgy boogies and elbow-barbed tornadoes, here comes the volatile rock 'n' roll of The Pretty Ghouls. 

New EP out this week: Dead At The Dandy Teen Club 

Running at tempos that risk tripping over themselves, with fuzz-torched guitars purring nitroglycerin and throttled with throaty vocals that somehow bring a soulfulness to their snarl, this trio leaves it all and heaves it all with all four tracks on their upcoming E.P. While I could invoke the words punk or garage, it just doesn't seem to stick to their unique signature rock sound, or even soulful sound (particularly in those vocals, hurried and hellraising as they are...)

"Outlaw Blues" has whiplash headbanging and riff-storms that ignite the ghoul in us all, our wilder sides that come out from the shadows to shimmy-shake till the whole room breaks...The guitars blaze along like a spark following an ominous line of powder toward an unseen keg while the crescendos, a flurry of cymbal crashes, feel so cathartic, despite their bellicosity, that its almost fearsome how much you can get down to this sonic demolition derby.

Not that it's all sturm und drang on this... the vocals can showcase their softer sides in the opening bars of "Cool Girls," emoting these dulcet tones in a sweet harmonization that goes from an airy tenderness into a swiftly turnt-up tension... And then the tantrum tumbles in and we're back to those 1-2 punching drums. "Hey Cool Girls / sorry to be cruel... you're not that cool" the two leading ladies sing/shout through the choruses.

These four songs each make you want to turn it up louder, listen closer, shake and stomp and yell harder... Sometimes it's only 80 seconds long but its still enough to lose your shit...in the most re-invigorating way attainable with through rock music...

Monday, June 8, 2015

New Music: Britney Stoney, Valley Hush

Two rising talents in the Detroit music scene released new music last weekend.

Britney Stoney, a breathtaking vocalist and guitarist fusing alternative folk and soul-pop, released a new EP, Native, while Valley Hush, the duo of producer Alex Kaye and singer Lianna Vanicelli, experiments with electronic dance music structures on their second release, Don't Wait, while imbuing the synth-glitz with elements of indie-rock and ambient dream-pop.

Stoney has been writing and performing her music for a few years, already, having released an EP back in 2012 as well as collaborating with other producers and lyricists from the local electronic and hip-hop scenes. Native had its formal release show Sunday evening in Detroit. Streaming below is a single she started streaming back in January. Her voice, its silky timbre and emotive sinew is soothing while her lyric are contemplative and metaphorical, yet still catchy enough for a pop chorus.

Valley Hush, meanwhile, take the listener on a bracing, heavily rhythmic, hike through the electro-pop wilderness, where you'll encounter myriad manner of sounds, samples and sequenced beats breezed into a minimalist space-rock guitar riff lilting under those celestial notes hit by the high, hazy voice of Vanicelli. Lead single, "Children" streaming...

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Fuzz Fest II: June 11-13 @ The Blind Pig

Fuzz is a sound, a musical note, an aesthetic. Fuzz is an integral element to the sound that abounds and resounds and rebounds… Fuzz fuels rock n’ roll.

Next weekend kicks off the 2nd annual Fuzz Fest, a three-day local music festival that celebrates the community and the culture of rock n’ roll. Presented by Jukebox Productions and Bang! Media and hosted at the Blind Pig (June 11-13), it features Wolf Eyes, The Amino Acids, Beast In The Field, Fred Thomas, Congress, Bison Machine and many more, including Human Skull (interviewed by this columnist earlier, here: http://bit.ly/1FlIJmd  ), and Blue Snaggletooth, fronted by singer/guitarist Chris Taylor.

Both Fuzz Fests were conceived and curated by Taylor to celebrate Michigan Rock n’ Roll. He saw a need for a festival of this magnitude not merely because the vibrancy of rock risks getting washed over by a wave of trendier new genre-hybrids, but because it’s not going to get any leg-up from radio stations anymore in this age of stream-happy Internet shufflers. “There really are loud, sweaty, swaggering rock bands laying out the big beat and cranking righteous jams,” Taylor said. “It ranges from blistering metal to fierce but educated indie-rock. You just need to know where to find ‘em.”

This year includes an even wider variety of rock acts, including more groups from the Detroit scene like PONYSHOW, 800beloved and Caveman Woodman & Bam Bam Moss. Yes, that’s frenetic indie-pop, shoegaze/bubblegum hybrids and skuzzy garage punk fitting in with drone-technicians, 70’s headbangable hard rock, spaced-out psyche-metal melees and everything in between…

“I wanted this year’s lineup to better reflect the different ends of the spectrum of the rock music scene,” Taylor said. “The more diverse the acts, the more people I hope to attract.”

Thursday June 11
8:15 Fred Thomas
8:45 Zen Banditos
9:15 Decisions
9:45 Casino
10:15 Minihorse
10:45 Wizard Union
11:15 800beloved
11:45 The Howling Loud
12:15 Nightbringer
12:45 Congress
1:15 The Amino Acids
Friday June 12
8:15 King Under Mountain
9:15 Super Thing
9:45 colorwheel
10:15 Buffalo Coven Party
10:45 John Krautner
11:15 BoneHawk
12:15 Blue Snaggletooth
12:45 Caveman Woodman & Bam Bam Moss
1:15 Wolf Eyes
Saturday June 13
8:15 Seritas
8:45 Beset by Creatures of the Deep
9:15 Imperial Sun Crusher
9:45 Whaler
10:15 PING PoNG
10:45 Scissor Now
11:15 Human Skull
11:45 Lizerrd
12:15 Wild Savages
12:45 Bison Machine
1:15 Beast In The Field

“Still,” Taylor said, “the lineup only represents a fraction of what’s out there.” Taylor is enthused by the diversity of styles each respective band brings, a testament to the range of talent bred from the Michigan music community and its rock residents’ imaginative approaches to songwriting, production and performance. “I’m proud to be from such a hugely diverse music scene,” Taylor said.
Taylor said that the inaugural festival was a big success and attendees really dug the two-stage set up, allowing for little-to-no breaks between bands. It was, and continues to be, a lot of work, he admits. 

“It wouldn’t have ran so smoothly without the support of my good pal Jeremy wheeler and the Bang! Crew.” 

Attendees, Taylor hopes, should find inspiration at Fuzz Fest II. “Rock ‘n’ roll music is still vital because it’s fun. And, with a little determination: anyone can do it.”

Doors open at 8 pm on all three nights. Cover is $8 (or, $10 for under 21). The Overhead Army will provide light shows and bands will begin at 8:15 pm each night. For more info: http://on.fb.me/1HGLL5Q

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Interview with The Soil & The Sun: The Broad Spectrum…The Wide Range

Some bands write pop songs. Some write punk songs. And, some write songs that just sound cool. Others rap, and others dance, others reinvent disco while the rest try blending techno trance to trip-hop, or whatever.  

But, a few bands, particularly Grand Rapids-based Soil & The Sun, can widen the gaze, strike sonorous, cinematic chords, cast a complex and pastoral instrumental assemblage;  evoking, inside the span of their 6-minute epics, the exhilaration o f the outdoors, the elegance of an old dusty theatre and the transcendence of a dream draping you across the stratosphere, all in one song… And those songs span the cathartic percussive trounce and guitar shred of rock to the sweeping strings and choral vocal arrangements of baroque revivalists, there’s sanguine surges of pop and more cerebral glides into atmospheric electronica…

I mean, there’s just a lot going on here…

“The spectrum is pretty broad, coming from seven very different people,” says frontman and co-founder Alex McGrath. “That’s why you hear a wide range of ideas in our music.”

The way he explains it, with both simplicity and yet a bit of mystery, is that the Soil & The Sun, after seven years of germination, are “…ultimately, trying to find that thing that only we can do…
McGrath and drummer Benjamin-Baker Jackson were the seeds of this soil. They were playing music together since mid 2000’s at college (Olivet Nazarine University, IL.), but moved to Grand Rapids to, eventually, start up a coffee shop with some friends. They eventually convinced friends from college, musicians they’d already known or played with previously, to join them in Grand Rapids and properly form the Soil & The Sun.

The group has attained a notable amount of acclaim and attention from several blogs, sites and zines from across the country. Last year’s ambitious and invigorating double album Meridian won them a Best Of What’s Next title from Paste Magazine. 

Soil & The Sun recently wrapped up a major US tour as the supporting act for From Indian Lake and Lemolo. They’ll be performing at The Blind Pig on June 6.

The group also features Ashley McGrath, Michael Newsted, Kellen Kerwin, Joanna Perry and Jacki Warren, with songs adorned by their finely matched harmonies and instruments ranging from electric bass to oboes, accordions to cellos, violins to electric guitars. And then there are those stirring lyrics…

The song “World We Used To Know,” both lyrically and instrumentally, strikes me with this deep sense for the metaphysical. How does that influence the sounds you create and the songs you write?
McGrath: I am personally very drawn to the mystical.  Having grown up mostly in church has influenced that, for sure.  I feel like it’s important to collect as much information as possible, but in the end it’s the experience that I’m after… which is somewhat elusive for me.  Interest the spiritual journey is definitely what drives most f the lyrical content of our songs.  Now, the veil between spiritual and natural is, well, less than thin, I’d say.  The two worlds are always overlaying and overlapping one another.  So, I think experiences in the “natural” and “spiritual” worlds are pretty synonymous with each other (whether we acknowledge it or not).

 Have you guys been working on anything during or between these past couple tours? Are you ever able to write from the road?
Writing on the road is not really something we have been able to do.  I think we’re just in a different mindset.  It’s more like a time of gathering information and inspiration for us.  Lately, we’ve been working on developing some ideas – hoping to put something together soon. 

After several years and all the touring you’ve done, is it like a technique or an artform for you now? How do you keep your momentum and, more importantly, keep your ensemble all together and consistently enthused?
Certain aspects of touring can feel formulate and become routine; like the long drives or the quest for decent coffee or ‘What time is load in?’ and ‘When do we need to leave…?’ ‘Who has the van keys?’ …But, even without those mundane things, sometimes there are exciting surprises, like, “Wow, it’s 6:30 p.m. and I just realized that I haven’t had any water yet today!”  I think we each get reenergized in our own ways.  Finding personal space is important and also impossible.  Personally, I like to take walks.  Connecting to something outside of the band can be grounding.  Also, a good show / performance is a powerful thing and can easily overcome any of the difficulties of being on the road, which is good, because that’s kind of the point. 

It seems like, these days, so many bands have to tour constantly just to sustain themselves. I was going to ask, earlier, what you love most about being in this band, but maybe I should ask what you love most about touring, since those things can go hand-in-hand with a band’s existence, or its evolution, or…its survival, really…
Having the opportunity to play music every night is a dream, but there are a lot of other neat things about touring as well.  It’s a pretty unique way to travel and see the U.S., similar to an AP class in high school – you move through the content really quickly and then connect the dots in a different way, but the details become a little blurry.  Time feels different when you’re moving fast.  I like that.  It’s a nice break from regular time.

 Something I like about being in this band… well, everyone has this willingness to be a member of the team.  I’m not sure if you could be a touring band and stay a band for very long without that.  Can I be sincere really quick…?  I get to do the thing I want to do most with people who I really love.  That’s my favorite part.  Ok, don’t make me say that again – I’ve been trying to suppress my emotions more, save it for the songs, ya know?  Yes, I think touring your brains out in definitely the most obvious way to keep a band afloat.  It’s not for everyone, though.  I’m interested in other ways to make a living as a musician, like having a hit song or writing jingles.

Meridian sounds so…epic. Like an achievement… What led to that record’s formation or, basically, what would you consider the group’s most formative moment? Something that really spurred you forward without looking back.
Probably eating tacos together near the end of 2013… That’s when we made the decision to attempt to do the band “full time” for one whole year.  We made it through the year, and ever since then we’ve been more determined to push ourselves to be better musicians and artists.  It’s ok to take yourself seriously sometimes.

You’ll play the Blind Pig on June 6…but what happens after that? What’s the future hold?
We’ll be spending most of the summer months at home in Grand Rapids.  We just moved into a house together, so that’s a big change that we’re getting used to.  I’m looking forward to developing some ideas we’ve been working on for a while.  Hopefully, we’ll be back out on the road this fall. 

Soil & The Sun perform June 6 at The Blind Pig (208 S. 1st St, Ann Arbor) with Jacob Bullard.
9:30 PM / $10 (Ages 18+)
More info:

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Moonwalks: Interview (Tour Kickoff, June 11 in Detroit)

“We don’t want to go up there and be just another four boring people playing rock music…" says Moonwalks guitarist Tyler Grates. "We’d rather be more memorable than that and maybe inspire them to make their own music.”

Grates is particularly interested in the more theatrical aspects of rock n’ roll music. The 21-year-old doesn’t mince words: “I wanna scare people.”

But he says this so even keel, like it’s just expected that that’s the natural aspiration for the Moonwalks’ type of music, with its unique energy and angles, both on record and on a stage. Even to this point, having garnered a notable amount of local buzz for their blend of a fuzz-stormed, pounding hard rock and mystically-murky psych-pop shimmy, Tyler still want to take things further. “To just excite (the audience); that’s the whole thing.”

“It’s not like we’re trying to cater to any sort of audience or try to make people like us,” drummer Kerrigan Pearce says. “We just don’t want to play shows where people are bored. It’s always more fun when a crowd responds.”

“People were freaking out the last time we played Elijah’s,” recalls bassist Kate Gutwald, offering it as evidence of their progress towards said-responsiveness. “I’ve never seen people mosh to our songs before…”

“Sometimes I can get nauseous right before a show,” says singer/guitarist Jake Dean. “Until we start playing. And then, depending on if it’s a good show, that feeling right after the last song, it’s the best feeling…”

Pearce says she feels the same way; that she digs the adrenaline that kicks in right before that first song hits…

The Moonwalks blend all the intriguing elements of surf and psych as well as some old time rock boogie and some grimy garage stomp: from the golden chiming tones of those lead guitars cascading over low, fuzz-splashed bass lines to the minimalist percussion punching straight to the heart with no frills, something heavy yet nonetheless hip-shakeable, while the vocals, whisked by a dazzle of echo, croon all coolly in the verses and yowl with raspy ardor at the choruses.

Oh, and Grate's solos? Those are witchcraft, man.

Sometimes the bedrock of the group’s sound is purposefully aerodynamic, like a pared back garage rock coaster, those that those sleek, slithering guitar lines can really fill the rest in, whipping their way across this intentionally cinematic soundscape like some indigo skyline blazing the peripheries...

It’s something like that...theatrical, as Grates would put it. Or, as Gutald puts it: "Just try to keep it simpler so that the guitars can show off more..."

Moonwalks could be the soundtrack to a lucid-dream-wrought Western transposed upon a post-apocalyptic desert planet where you’re cruising in a dusty Roadrunner with Link Wray, The Cramps and Brian Jonestown Massacre in the backseat.

Their debut EP, recorded with Jim Diamond, is streaming on bandcamp:  http://moonwalks.bandcamp.com/ 
And, their summer tour kickoff is next Thursday (6/11) at Lo & Behold! Records and Books, starting after 9 p.m. with The Deadly Vipers. 

Grates and Dean started jamming together about two years ago. The pair had just gotten out of high school (Grosse Pointe South), but each had already been playing music for several years. The two guitarists started a group called Band Of Newman (...playing off the quirky pianoman balladeer Randy Newman). That group wound up breaking up. "It got boring," Grates said. "I just wanted more sound, more droney-ness, more excitement!"

Gutwald grew up playing classical music on the violin. She tries to avoid the self-trumpeting qualification of saying she's "...classically trained." In high school, she learned how to play guitar, but she actually learned the bass for this band, having never picked it up before.

Kerrigan, meanwhile, plays drums (with notably upticked gusto) for The Deadly Vipers. She taught herself how to play drums from listening to Jon Bonham on Led Zeppelin records (along with some Sabbath and Velvet Underground). To suit the particular guitar-centric psych-rock sensibilities of Moonwalks, though, she likes to think that she's more Moe Tucker-ish with Grates' songs (while she goes more toward Bonham ballistics with the Vipers).

Now, I already used lots of purple adjectives to evoke their signature trippy-rock whirls...whilst also name-dropping lots of other subjectively chosen sonic reference points. But, believe it or not, these young talents don't even count Brian Jonestown as an influence... That's just what my ears heard. Now, Randy Newman's name was sincerely dropped during the interview, as was KISS and T. Rex. Dean used to listen to cassettes of Fats Domino, Chubby Checker, Bo Diddley and Howling Wolf, while Grates talks about Leonard Cohen and Captain Beefheart.

And lately? Lately it's Devo, Donovan, Todd Rundgren and...Modern English? Yep. Which speaks to their inclination to put on an energizing live show; comparatively young as they are, they're soaking in so many different and stylistically disparate influences, yet each of those names scrolled above share one thing in common: presence...presentation...stagecraft... Theatricality! Excitement... That's what it's all about.

For now... the band is heading out on the road, hoping to fill up most of their summer with extra tour dates. They have a full length album completed, but no set release date, as of yet. Grates said to expect more instrumentals, more layers, more droneyness...including a 10+ minute jam, Zapp-ishly titled "Cream Cheese Ashtray."

"I like the tracks, I like how all the songs are sequenced," Grates said. "I think there are a lot of hidden things in there that people will have to listen for...which is good when you really get into an album and wait for certain parts to come back around..."

Release date?
Grates: "...as soon as possible..."

Meanwhile: Tour kickoff is Thursday, June 11 @ Lo & Behold! Records and Books (10022 Jos Campeau, Hamtramck). 

6.11 Detroit, MI *Tour Kickoff* @ Lo and Behold w. Deadly Vipers 
6.13 Brooklyn, NY @ Baby's All Right *Northside Fest* w. Calvin Love, EzTV, Holydrug Couple, Heaters
6.14 Hudson, NY @ Half Moon
6.15 Providence, RI @ Aurora w. Heaters
6.16 Manchester, NH @ Press Room w. Heaters
6.17 Winooski, VT @ Monkey House w. Heaters
6.21 Detroit, MI @ Loving Touch w. Cave Singers