Thursday, December 28, 2017

Copper Thieves - 333 & 1/3

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Zelda and The Unibrows

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

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

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

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

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

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

And there you have it....

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

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

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

DD White Homecoming Show

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Exactly. But let's not get into midichlorians!


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

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

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

She connects to Kylo from the bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

it was the ultimate, in that regard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Zander Michigan - Kitchen Sink # 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can download this EP via iTunes, Bandcamp and SoundCloud

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

Monday, December 18, 2017

Milo Show - Episode 20

I'm proud to present the 20th episode of "The Milo Show"

Two years ago, Kristi Billings and I were enthused by Josh Malerman and his crew at Casket Full of Rough Drafts to launch into this monthly production of half-hour-long episodes that would combine my interviews with local artists, musicians, movers and shakers, and splice in two live performances from a new pair of Detroit-area bands.

Chad Stocker (of The Mythics and The High Strung) joined Kristi and I for episode # 4 and served (and continues to serve) as the show's audio engineer. The entire operation was DIY. Nothing was scripted. And we hosted each episode in a different location each time (book stores, basements, backyards, bedrooms, theaters, bars, anywhere...)

We're taking the Winter off so Chad and I can cook up some new ideas and very likely evolve the format.

On Youtube
and on Facebook

This is, sadly, a swan song for Kristi. I'm so proud of and impressed by everything she was able to create with this show, especially as a film editor. She was in charge of three cameras and served as each episode's director. At times, that could be like herding cats and she did a great job. Let me put this shameless plug in for Kristi--if you're looking for someone to help out with a video or photography project in 2018, maybe consider her? Chad and I will miss her in the new year. But I have to say, it was a blast to work with both of them, as well as receive enthusiastic support (by way of their performances and participation) from the members of the local music scene who appeared as guests.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Films of 2017

I'll leave it to various Awards Ceremonies to host anti-climactic competitions between the darling pictures like Three Billboards, Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, Shape of Water, and The Post...

I'd much rather celebrate the quality productions that gracefully shouldered their way past the status quo of formulaic comedies and mindless action films (that always predominantly feature dashing, hunky, camera-mugging white men) and instead suffused a much needed diversity of voices (and faces) in to Hollywood's docket of wide theatrical releases. I want to celebrate the movies that would initially grab headlines because of a certain exceptionalism, but then went on to supremely deliver the goods across the board, in terms of technical and artistic values as well as entertainment value!

1.) Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman: The highest grossing film of the year, as well as the highest grossing "superhero origin film" of all time. A female-led action film that wasn't as heavy on flash or cool-choreography-for-the-sake-of-cool-fight-scenes; an action film that tipped the scales to provide more substantive commentary (in this case, against mindless male aggression) against the formulaic string of reckless explosion scenes.
2.) Jordan Peele's Get Out: Highest grossing original (non-sequel, non-franchise) debut film of all time! First black writer/director with a $100m+ debut. Second-highest R-rated horror film box office ever. Daniel Kaluuya is my pick for best actor, with subtly and extremes in his expressions and reactions within this surreal, but not so surreal, satirical (but not so satirical) horror film. How does Peele not get Awards love for a Best Director nom? Out the gates and you're this good? Wow.

3.) Kumail Nanjiani's The Big Sick: A film released during the competitive Summer Blockbuster season about medically induced comas starring a Pakistani actor who hasn't lead in any previously successful theatrical release?  And it's a HIT!??! Brilliant! In terms of poignancy and heartfelt considerations of family and romantic love, of what we want out of life and how we honor our parents, no other film came close... It may be my sentimental favorite of the year! But it's dialogue is endearingly authentic, and I can't recall more genuine-feeling portrayals of parents and their complex regard for the future(s) of their children.

4.) Greta Gerwig's Ladybird: Gerwig had an uphill battle to break past preconceptions of "coming of age" movies following familiar formulas. Ladybird IS a coming-of-age film, but it is not just for the soon-to-be-graduating high schooler at the center of the story, but just as much for her parents. Greta is almost the same age as I am, and she has written and directed a film that profoundly captures the emotional machinations of two very specific points of our she reaches back 15 years into her past to access an 18 year old's mentality, but also reaches 15 years forward to inhabit the emotions of two parents who are getting on later into their middle age... 

The strength of this script and its direction (as well as its actors' performances) is that both sides of this confrontational-love/hate relationship, a butting-of-heads where both sides (18-year-old / 45-year-old) feel an outrage toward the behaviors and decisions of the other, are given sincere portraits that show each struggling to, eventually, (not a spoiler) come to an understanding of where the other is coming from (or going to...)

5.) Taika Waititi's Thor: A year or so ago, if you told me that a Guardians of the Galaxy film was going to be released during the same year as a Thor movie..., I would have already known which one I probably would have liked more.... The Thor series of films were so...unappealing, that I couldn't even sit through either of the first films. BUT... bring in Taika Waititi, master of quirk and a subtle stylist of active camerawork, and give him essentially a carte-blanche permission to get as flamboyant and off-the-wall as he wants, in terms of an injection of humor, warmth and visual decadence into the sometimes-too-austere genre of superhero movies? It was definitely a roll of the dice... And I want to see more directors like Patty Jenkins and Waititi getting these kinds of opportunities.
These are top notch films and my excitement amplifies at the potential that they are a sign of further progress in 2018. 

But I'm also compelled to round out this list with Blade Runner 2049. 

It's box office performance suggests that it might not have many critical cheerleaders at year's end. Nevertheless, I can't remember using the words "enthralled from start to finish" to describe any other theatre-going experience over the last few years. And that's why it's here for me... Set aside the heavyhanded philosophy and set aside Jared Leto. Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmers score is superb, the cinematography is dazzling, the acting is compellingly understated, so it makes for a comprehensive galvanizing of the senses.........and I just hope they don't get scared off from making movies like this and releasing them for optimally epic, cavernously-aural theater experiences!! 

Honorable Mentions
Good Time
Last Jedi
War for the Planet of the Apes
Three Billboards
John Wick 2
Trainspotting 2
Atomic Blonde

Omitted because I haven't seen them yet: Call Me By Your Name, Florida Project, Shape of Water

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Listening Back on 20 Years of Detroit Music: Part 4

I started writing about local music around 2004. And it did feel like a big deal when I marked a 10 year anniversary. But I'll tell you... I've never felt busier than during these last four years. Sure, just like any institution, a new wave of younger participants tides its way down the halls of the music scene, and they're full of energy and ambition and eagerness to take on tours to Chicago and New York, and likely are comparatively freer than the older guard from 2004, now, who have each gone on to other things, or perhaps started families...

STILL, so many of the musicians who first scorched the sonic epiphanies I felt at my first show years ago are still at it, in other bands now, collaborating with other musicians, trying new sounds and styles. Bands like The Hentchmen will never die. Zach Shipps and Chris Koltay are still behind the boards. Beloved underground bands like Thoughts of Ionesco or Bear Vs Shark can always get back together for an inspiring stint. And other longtime garage rock music mavens have moved on to other ways of energizing the music community. Also, there are musicians who I came up with, my contemporaries, age-wise, that I've enjoyed witnessing (or listening to) their creative evolution, as they've moved from one project to another. 

These four blog posts have been heavily nostalgic, and they've found me reverting to my mindset in 2004, when I would look up to garage rock musicians as the seniors to my freshman. I have evolved from that thinking, by now. There aren't, or there shouldn't be, any levels of seniority. We're all in this mix together, we're all spurred by the same strain of a passionate love for music; it gets expressed in myriad and unique ways, but there's always that same something that few of us can ever quite capture in words, that something that keeps us, as the Flint Eastwood song goes, "in love with the feeling..." 

AND, I've evolved way past being just an indie-rock kid, fresh out of college. Hip-hop, neo-soul, techno, dub, house, blues, country, Americana, noise-experimentaiton, chamber-pop, psychedelia, ambient electronica, new-wave revival, gypsy-folk, jazz, pop............ I am immersed in all of it, each week, each month, each year...., all of it created HERE! All of these emotions that I've felt from this music were triggered by the arrangements, the vocal and instrumental performances, and the productions of local artists and engineers, both live and on records. 

I have never been, nor did I ever purport to attempt, to be a "music critic" when it came to my detailed written encounters with Detroit bands. I was inspired, enough, just to be able to be in a position to tell stories. My interviews with these bands, and there have been hundreds, are an evident form of telling a story. But when I sit down and listen to the songs, when I write about the music and what it sounds like..., I'm also telling an extended part of the story in that aspect. It's always just been about creating a dialogue through music; a way of telling the story of Detroit's musical artists, year to year... And I could go on... And I will go on...

So what I have for you here is music created mostly between 2014--2017, with a few older examples. But lots of newer groups that I've been digging during these past four busy years... AND, as I always say, these playful playlists were reliant upon what was available on Spotify. But I did get a lot of favorites, nonetheless. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Listening Back on 20 Years of Detroit Music (pt 3 of 4) 2008-2017

I feel caught between "waves" sometimes... Not that we have to be so insistent upon distinguishing one's journey through a music scene's evolution with categories... I'd rather not. But STILL:

To arrive on this music scene as an 18 year old in 2002 was pretty invigorating, because the tidal wave of "garage rock" music hadn't yet receded from the shore of venues and was still considered the primary species of the region's musical output... Parts one and two of this series did bring some focus to what else was going on around that era of 98-2007, primarily the rise of hip-hop emcees like Danny Brown, Invincible, Black Milk, and techno artists like ADULT.

But now, I'm looking beyond 2007...
I'm listening back to the most recent decade of Detroit music, the one that's just concluding this month.

And while I can still access the exhilaration I felt to see and meet and write about bands like The Dirtbombs and The Hentchmen in 2006 and 2007, I felt something even deeper or more profound with bands like Prussia, Illy Mack, Lightning Love, Black Lodge, Duende, Carjack, Wildcatting, The Oscillating Fan Club, Child Bite.... I could go on! The Decks! Mick Bassett & The Marthas!!   Anyway..... It was the next wave. It was the wave that I fit more into, age-wise, I suppose... And, as I emphasize, I hate to make this a generation thing... But the garage rockers I first encountered were all 9-11 years older than me when I got into this scene. So, suddenly, my classmates are stepping up and making their way into the scene in venues like The CAID (before it was raided), Club Bart's (before it was closed), and The Belmont (before it became Oloman's). And I wouldn't simplify it into this next decade's batch of bands somehow speaking my language more comprehensively.

I think it was more so that these bands, just like me, had also comparatively grown up as 17 and 18 year olds while The White Stripes or Danny Brown or Shigeto or whoever were right here in town, and that the respective creative radiances of those local icons similarly inspired them in their own ways - which was then translated into their own songs. And I fed off of that!

Sometimes I feel a surreal and conflicted self-consciousness over sounding like an old man who extols to the newest bands that I meet:  "If you only could have seen Prussia, live!!"  Or, Black Lodge, for that matter.  There are bands from this era that only put out one album, maybe two albums, and only stayed together for three years, maybe four....that I will never forget And it's a testament not only to the sentimental reasons I elucidated above, but because I believe that we were each similarly ignited with the same strain of inspiration.

Because it was after the "moment" between '98-2002 when people were looking to sign the next big thing out of this city's garage crop... Hell, it was even after 2005 or 2006 when you really saw the music industry start to crumble!! It was like the junior hockey team showing up for practice at the ice rink and realizing it had melted away... All that was left were the boards and stanchions and goalie nets, but a big rink of a 3-inch pond that they had to splash into now... So it was that these bands had no pressure to impress, or to cater their songs to some formula in hopes of punching some label's golden ticket to fame. The only fame was for the 31 minutes they were on a very dimly lit stage on a Friday night in front of a crowd of 32 people...

So, what I have here, are mostly songs from 2008-2013. Some are quite new, though. It was, as I've said, tricky to keep these lists balanced and comprehensive, because I am hindering my completion of it by relying upon "what's on Spotify..."
Anyway: I have too many memories to share. So here's their music

Friday, December 8, 2017

Lagerheads' EP - Song Premiere - Interview

The musicians  making up The Lagerheads, a band that would eventually debut on this scene in early 2016, actually spent the entierity of 2015 just working out their first batch of songs together. They proceeded to spend those first few shows experimenting with how they wanted to perform these arrangements of high-energy rock, a blend of grungey emotion, garage rock explosiveness, raucous metal tempos, and a bit of an indie/post-punk sleekness. Each player brought their individual sensibilities for creatively tilting the structural frames of rock music while still capturing its characteristically graceful intensities....

Next weekend, they're releasing their first EP, and you can stream their first single, "Like It Or Not," below.

"Like It Or Not's" has hooks that crash like a cascade of mini crescendos; the kinda song you'd throw your whole body into if you heard it live... Headbanging would almost be too passive a response for a tune this urgent. The drums and bass set off like bullet train that picks you up...wait, engulfs you..., from the station, and from there the guitars speed you forward with this tight, yet tremulous interplay that almost wobbles things off the rails. The vocals are full, mid-low range melodic growls that can appropriately arc up for some emotive howls to harmonize with the forcefulness of this song. 

Benjamin Kay is one of the guitarists, along with Michael Biondo. I chatted with Kay about the band's first two years together. Bassist Jamie Mosshart and Phil Giannotta on drums joined early, but later, Rob Zinck came in to add vocals to a batch of songs that had been worked out as instrumentals for that first year. 

Their EP release is December 15th, with a show at PJ's Lager House. Opening up will be Five Pound Snap and George Morris & The Gypsy Chorus. 

Tell me how this band came together? 
Benjamin Kay: All of us had been playing shows together in different respective bands for awhile, so it was really more the local community that brought us together than a particular sound. I remember thinking about stealing Jamison away from The Erers after seeing them way back in 2013. Mike and Jamison are such fantastic players that my only real goal was to get them in a room together and see what would happen. Phil was a natural fit, and I knew he was available, since we'd both just left Awesome Jarvis and the Whales together. Rob was the late add after months of writing instrumental music, so he had the daunting task of figuring out how to sing over these songs that had already been arranged. 

Are there common influences you each share? Or what's that chemistry like? And how did it inform the five songs on the EP? 
Kay: Everyone's musical background is all over the map, so it's sort of a surprise that the sound on this EP is as focused as it is. Mike writes these really pretty Americana-rock melodies and really belongs somewhere in the late 1960s. I've always known Rob to write these socially and politically charged punk songs. Phil has a great ear for pop hooks and arrangement. Identifying influences is tough because each of the five of us would probably give you a complete different list.

So..., "rock n roll" can be utilized for certain vibes. It can be fun and summery and road-trippy... It can be fast and heavy and metal-ish. It can be bluesy. It can be poppy. You guys are giving your intonations a lot of grit, the vocals are impassionated and addressing substantive issues with gruffness, and the drums can pummel... Also, the guitars are super intricate. Talk about what YOU guys want to do with rock, or just how you generally approach the writing of a song? 
The song writing is very collaborative, but it usually starts with a sketch one of us had. There are five sets of DNA in every song, but at the same time there's some distinction between songs that came out of Jamie's head versus one of Mike's. I think the end result is so riffy because that's the closest thing there is to a middle ground between our different backgrounds. We all want to say our piece over the course of a song, so you end up with a lot going on in almost every passage. The goal usually is to try and take the fun parts of progressive rock and package it into a neat, three minute garage rock shell.

Could you talk a bit about this single, "Like It Or Not," and about the recording of the EP overall? 
Like It or Not actually predates some of the band members. It was the first thing we'd ever jammed on. After two years of opening with it, it's still probably our favorite song to warm up with. Nothing wakes a room up like a two minute barn-burner. The rest of the songs came pretty quickly after that. I think we had written everything on this EP by Spring 2016. The recording sessions were very laid back, but very focused. We'd been rehearsing the songs for quite awhile before day one in the studio, but still managed to learn a lot about them during the sessions. A shout-out to Jimmy Dixon at Homestead Studios, when we have everything ready for #2, we'll definitely be headed back there. 

What is your take on the Detroit music scene? And does it, at all, play an influential role in your music?
It's a terrific place to call home. It's more influential for some of us than others; Jamison and I cut our teeth on Detroit garage, while Rob is from Alaska and played in death metal bands.

Plans in 2018?
Gig on A Five Piece Problem until the city is sick of the songs. Then, get ready for the next recording! 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Detroit (Michigan) Songs: 2017

I hate this part of the job.    I love this part of the job...
I've made a list every year, for 10 years, and it doesn't get easier.

There are several bands that aren't on this list that I still was able to write about, to interview, and to tell a bit of their story... And that's where I have always, and will continue to thrive. The end of the year comes and suddenly "everybody' a critic..." And we rank "favorites." But I never wanted to see it that way, and I never wanted it to be read that way. Because we all have our favorites. And when I say "we," I'm talking to every one of you that I see out at local shows supporting not just the artists on this "list" but dozens of others around Detroit.

So  I look at it this way: These songs are awesome. Yes. But, also: they're, in the end, just a fraction of the output from the region's musical artists. And that's what should be celebrated.

So here's a glimpse of Detroit's musical output... And, inevitably, what predominated my weekly playlist.

Tune in the week after the Xmas holiday to WDET's Culture Shift  (12noon-2pm weekdays) for a special hour-long "Milo Minute," where I'll be talking about the year in local music and playing a dozen or so of my "favorite songs." If you follow me on Spotify, then you'll find an 85-song list of nearly six hours of Detroit/Michigan-produced music. That list will also be available at by the end of the month.

30.) Brother Son - Growth

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Interview with Shelley Salant about 'SHELLS 2'

Shelly Salant's guitar arrangements are much more active than what you'd conceive as ambient music. The way a brook would babble its way through the wilderness, or a buzzy chorus of scattered cicadas, her twice and thrice-looped guitar phrasings crest over each other in a dizzying harmony. She's able to craft something that's calming, even when it's swelling into a storm.

Because these songs are instrumental, and because she's managed to leave each always about halfway-open to improvisational renovations, they naturally evoke the qualities of resplendent, roving daydreams; fitful sonic reveries that manifest themselves free of constraining structure. But they are not structure-less. Salant has been performing her solo guitar adaptations since 2011, and released a full-length, In A Cloud, in 2013.

Tonight (Friday) her performance at Trinosophes celebrates the completion of her latest: SHELLS 2, a follow-up to In A Cloud, produced with Fred Thomas.

To see Salant perform, it might seem like she's in a sort of trance; fittingly, what she's able to do on the fly with a modest pedal board and one guitar, is sufficiently entrancing in itself. Our interview tries to unpack her techniques, which aren't tethered by traditional forms, yet still wind up intertwining surprising and beautiful melodic patterns.

But Salant holds such a storied spot in the Michigan music scene. She's been in bands for more than a decade, all the while diligently attending and supporting countless other artists' performances across the region. She founded her own music label (Ginko Records), she spearheaded The Local Music Show on U-M's WCBN FM in Ann Arbor, and she spent more than a year (and logged a good amount of touring miles) as a member of Tyvek back in 2010-2011.

But between 2011 and 2016, she was also in a band with Fred Thomas (Swimsuit), as well as a trio with Autumn Wetli and Amber Fellows called Rebel Kind. I haven't even gotten to all the shows she booked, and then subsequently promoted; not just with individual show poster designs, but through tireless cataloging of upcoming calendar dates via her culture blog Michigan Happenings. Oh, and then there's the time she spent working at Encore Records in Ann Arbor; you can currently find her at Hello Records here in Detroit.

We've got a lot to talk about!

So, what's your songwriting process? How do you approach it?
I pretty much just let it flow. I'll just play a lot..., and if I come up with an idea I keep returning to, then it will become clear that maybe that's something I want to record. The songs kind of make themselves known. I have a lot of pieces and ideas that are not recorded yet, or that are forgotten... I have many hours of recordings that I haven't gone through and probably never will, but it's all part of the process.

What was your first show as SHELLS?
So, I've actually played guitar since I was 12, but for the first 4-5 years that I was playing in bands I always played drums or bass. I mostly played guitar by myself. I wanted to do a solo thing, but I wasn't sure what I would do. I put out a tape of psychedelic guitar stuff called Old Night. I gave one to Warn Defever and he liked it and asked me to play a solo guitar set at Noise Camp, I think it was in 2011. He put Shells on the flyer, and that was the first Shells show. I realized I could just focus on playing guitar and that was really helpful.

It's just you and your guitar, but there's a lot of effects going on... Can you talk about your set up and about what you're seeking, when it comes to the experience or affect of a song?
I keep the setup pretty minimal, just my guitar, delay/looper, and amp. I'm interested in seeing what I can do with just these elements. This project is my attempt to transmit emotion directly through the guitar. I've always thought that ideally, my live sets would be half totally improvised and half songs/ideas that I return to and play off of. Sometimes I'll play a set that is all improvised and sometimes a set that is just songs. Recently I've been playing more sets that are song based, but the songs are really root ideas that I play off of.

What was it like to shift more towards pre-arranged songs, or pre-determined progressions, melodies, etc...?
I used to think it was boring for me to play the "songs" and not newly improvised stuff... But, over time I've realized it's okay for me to play what I consider to be my best material. I like to use the looper, but I usually don't do more than one or two songs with loops in a set. I just remembered that when I started playing solo shows I always sat down, but now I basically always stand. I've played on really varied bills with this project and I adapt what I'm doing to the context I'm in.

Lots of songs on SHELLS 2 have outdoorsy/nature/travel/location-related titles... Did you write or think up these songs on tour? Or, where is it that you tend to find a formative amount of inspiration?
Nature is always a big inspiration to me. In between the first record and this one, I did a lot of traveling around the country that wasn't touring, so I had a lot of time to explore different areas. A lot of times I take a child's acoustic "travel guitar" and some of the songs start off that way. I have a hard time putting my thoughts into words, and so it's hard to name the songs. The titles named after places are not necessarily written there, but my memory of the place fits the vibe of the song. It's hard to sum up the overarching theme, but this record is definitely very influenced by the places I've been and the people I've known.

So let's get technical... What is on your pedal board? What do you love most about the effects that you do use? Are there prevailing sonic adornments that you are more drawn to than others? In what ways can echo, delay, or reverb...enhance what you're trying to express, musically?
I pretty much just use delay/echo and reverb. I love playing the guitar itself and I don't have the patience or temperament to mess with pedals that much. A lot of people who do instrumental electric guitar stuff have a huge pedal board, but that's not my style. I never use distortion pedals but I like to overdrive the amp. My main setup is just my Kalamazoo guitar through a Line 6 DL-4 pedal, which has a bunch of different kinds of delay and a loop. But these pedals are notorious for breaking so when mine is broken, I have used other delay pedals. I love using real tape delays especially the Echoplex, which I have been fortunate to play and sometimes borrow from Fred. That said, on the new record I used a lot more effects/pedals and different guitars and amps.

What's it like working with Fred Thomas?
Fred is my favorite person to record with because he gets it; he has good ideas and he gives great feedback. I'm a huge fan of all his work, and we have been close friends and collaborators for about ten years now. He's a huge influence on me. I think it's really important when you record to have someone who you trust giving you feedback. Some people when you record with them, they just say "Sounds cool...." no matter what, and it's not very helpful.

The first Shells LP came out on his label, Lifelike...
Shells: I was honored when Fred told me he wanted to put out a Shells LP, and also surprised. Before then I never would have believed in myself or this project enough to think that it was worthy of an LP. I originally thought that the LP would basically be a document of a live set, that I would sit down and record it all in one sitting with no breaks, but that wasn't really working out. I recorded at least 20 hours of material on cassettes, and then I brought some of what I thought was the best stuff to Fred. He helped me edit it and do some post production stuff and some minimal overdubs. Pretty soon it was done and that was the In A Cloud record.

So, in terms of production, what distinguished SHELLS 2 from In A Cloud...?
Shells: Fred suggested that we record it together. I realized that the Shells records and the Shells live shows can be different things. I still use a pretty minimal setup live, but that doesn't mean I can't use other stuff on the records and expand it a bit. I trust Fred, and I was open to trying ideas he had for recording. This record has a lot more multitracking and some other instruments. The first record had very little overdubbing, and the last song has drums but it's mostly just guitar. This new record is still mostly guitar, but a lot more guitars! And some songs have drums and synths. To a "normal" person it probably still seems minimal, but to me I was like "Maybe I went overboard here, maybe this is like Loveless". There's a lot more going on than on the first record.

You live in Detroit, but you're still hosting the Local Music shows on WCBN back in Ann Arbor... And you're still keeping busy with Tyvek...
Yeah, so I still host the Local Music Show on WCBN in Ann Arbor; it's a project I care deeply about. I've also been playing in a punk band/art project called The Vitas for the past couple years. I used to make monthly show calendar flyers and put them around town, and, after a few years of a break from that Greg Baise and I recently started making them again. There's always a lot of great stuff happening in the area, and we want people to know about it! I used to book a lot more shows, and I still enjoy doing that, but in recent times I've been focusing more energy on my own projects.

What is your earliest memory, your most formative moment, in terms of 'getting into the local music scene...'? What set you down the path...?
Shells: One of the first memories I have of going to shows was going to see Fred Thomas, Kelly Caldwell and Eliza Godfrey at the Halfway Inn in Ann Arbor, in March 2004...I was pretty depressed as a teen but going to shows really helped me feel a part of something. I would pretty much go to whatever shows I knew about. So after a couple years of going to shows I wanted to contribute in some way, and so I started booking shows at the Neutral Zone in Ann Arbor. Pretty soon I graduated high school and was booking shows at my house and pretty much wherever else would agree to do them. I started playing with Charlie Slick and we played a lot of shows. Then I started playing in other bands (Tyvek/Swimsuit/Rebel Kind). 

One last question. Another memory question. Not your first memories, musically... Just, what's your most lasting memory? Something you've never forgotten, something profound, and why it stuck with you...?
I always remember this one: When I was working at Encore we had William Parker play in the store. That was the first of what has now been many in-store shows, and William Parker has in fact played a few more times. This first time was in a trio with Tom Rainey on drums and Tony Malaby on sax. After the performance William Parker was talking to some of us younger folks, and he said "It's alright if you only play note - you just gotta make it your note." 

SHELLS 2 - Release Party on Fri, Dec 8
with Bonny Doon and Kathy Leisen