Monday, April 30, 2018

Shady Groves - "Hourglass"

Shady Groves really set a groove with a breaktout single from their debut album, "Hourglass." That bass grins as it slaloms in under those spacey/hazy keys and then the delay-heavy guitar ripples over top while the kickdrum keeps a heightening pulse. The rhythm section maintains a sweetly danceable anchor while the keys creates a catchy melody of mostly minor keys and that guitar leans in to a deliciously surfy riff. The Detroit quintet worked with Elaine Smith to create a video for it and released it about a month ago.

Shady Groves draw from a well that includes the melody-worship of power-pop, but also immerse themselves into emotive new-wave and ambient rock. Adam Fitzgerald and Dylan Caron started making songs together more than 3 years ago, with Jeff Yateman (who wound up playing an integral role in recording songs like "Hourglass"). They put out a debut as a trio in 2016 (Bitzer), but Yateman went on to form his own project (Jemmi Hazeman), and the band grew to a quartet, with Jamie Dulin, Colt Caron, and Sage Denam. "Hourglass" is a single from their second album, titled Dreamboat, which their aiming to put out later in the summer.

Meanwhile, Shady Groves' propulsive, hook-heavy indie-pop incarnations are going to fit in nicely with the breakout New York trio Sunflower Bean - paired on a bill together on May 9 at the Crofoot. INFO. (Shady Groves will also at Kelly's a couple days after that, with Jemmi Hazeman, Remnose, and Charlie Millard.

More info

Saturday, April 28, 2018

TIME comes to Michigan

The instant I hear this, I wanna see it. Because this Gainseville darktronica duo sound akin to outerminded music-utilizing oracles that we have around town here, like The Imaginatron. TIME are interested in, working toward, and possessed by...a contemplation of totality.

Electronic dance music often suggests or deploys a sense tension, urgency, and an ineffable feeling of ominousness - and yet, in a cosmic sense, when you "Let Go..." and give in to the grander scalar quantity such as "time," bound as we all are, when one pauses to consider such things, in the pull of collective tides making up an ocean of this ever flowing, unable just how it could be measured or even perceived. And once that heavy conjecture hatches and unspools in your brain, it'll likely be too much to bear - so, best then, at that point, to give your viscera over to the trance of those sequenced beats, celestially intertwining synth melodies and those mantra-like vocal chants.

To my ears, I hear the essence of Numan/Nomi, Daft Punk, Rammstein, and even ADULT....., the Florida duo's most recent self-titled album all but beckons you into the odyssey I described above. When you get to a song like "Sri Guru Vandana," it becomes apparent that the aspiration is a transcendence.

The dreamy distortion, echo-splashed vocals and various other dazzling pitches and pulsations would easily accommodate anyone eager just to close their eyes and rave in a crowded, neon-light-blazed room of throbbing bass - as could be the case when this duo makes their tour stops, but who am I to presume to get into the heads of their audiences. I just know that they will find a welcoming crowd here in Detroit for two upcoming performances, where we'll be eager to experience another artist taking the concert experience toward something like ceremony---

TIME will be at Offworld Arcade on May 9 
And then they'll be at WhateverFest on May 12
The full tour schedule is on their bandcamp.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Emily Jane Powers - Restless

And sometimes we are just restless. We can't put a name to whatever this emotional inflammation might be, some kind of "haze overflowing..." Not dispirited, per say, but just anxious to examine that spirit and find out wherever the hell its taking us.

It's Not Hard To Decide (Lyric Video) by Emily Jane Powers from EJP on Vimeo.

photo by rachel winslow

Awake in the dead of night, you might have four thoughts go through your head in under a minute - it's fitting, then, that Emily Jane Powers latest album, Restless, expresses itself with at least as many, or more different genres/sounds/styles/moods as there are songs on the album. And I do mean album - this DIY guitarist/singer/songwriter and former Michigander has been making 'bedroom pop ballads' for years, with numerous releases between 2009 and 2014 - Restless was released last month on 180 gram vinyl. You can also download the album, here. In the meantime, you can see and hear Powers when she comes back to her former home state with a visit to Trixie's Bar in Hamtramck. INFO.

Powers sings of cyclic hearts and sullen days and mourning lights, but there's nothing overly tender or emotive about her poetic lyrical renderings. In the same way that unapologetic autumn mornings deliver early frosts, she comes at subjects with a kind of objectivity that manifests a beauty--even if it's a heartbreaking beauty--processing all those restless thoughts about marriage, womanhood, motherhood, society, materialism, general dread, nuanced self-doubt, sentimentality, emotional distance, strength--and the possibility of renewing said strength... In her oracle-like way of putting these contemplations into poetry that feels both raw and resplendent, I'd put her in a class with other artists I've written often about in the past such as Audra Kubat and Fred Thomas.

And then there is the musical arrangements. Restless was three year's in the making and was recorded by Erik Hall (In Tall Buildings), featuring performances from Jenn Romero (The Jellies), Chris Smith (Luno), Alec Jensen and Eric Brummitt (Dream Version). "It's Not Hard To Decide" sets a minimal groove with woodblocks and a splindly acoustic guitar, while "Blood" adds guitars and bursts with a gliding chord progression and an irresistible hook during the chorus that leads into a cathartic riff. "Who Pays" brings it right back down, a hypnotic wavy groove facilitates an expressive guitar phrase as Powers' vocals is able to put so much emotion into an economical amount of words. That's just the first three songs, alone...

The variety and explorative nature of the compositions consists throughout. And her voice will continue to give you poignant pause, reaching falsettos on "Talk and Beg" and exorcising something tangible in a grittier mid-range on the title track. It's comforting and haunting, all at once, that I've heard similar questions and ponderings in my own head - given melody and music and profundity, with the music and instrumentation on this record.

Emily Jane Powers
May 5
Trixie's Bar
w/ VNESSWOLFCHILD & Eliza Godfrey

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Sara Marie Barron - "Wanna Know" (Interview)

You may not be aware of the healing you needed until you hear Sara Marie Barron. The Detroit-area soul/jazz/songstress has a voice that can conjure up a deep breathed sigh from you, listener, that you hadn't even realized was building. 

Something about Barron's voice, precious and powerful, almost instantly acquaints you with her, whether or not you've heard her or seen her perform before hearing singles from her upcoming album like "Wanna Know," there's just some kind of deep emotional essence to her lyrics and intonation that make you feel like you know where she's coming from. 

Spring is here and everything outside is thawing and coming back to life--and that's what Barron's first pair of new singles can do for a listener, restoration of the mind, heart, and your overall aura.

It might be the versatility to her voice that you respond to, a lower croon to a higher aching arc, gracefully and coolly stretching out her vibratto over woozy brass and jazzy keys. Or, it might be that you're responding to a kind of classiness to her sound, an old-school classiness, that is... 

"When I was young, my mom used to listen to Carole King's Tapestry album constantly in the car," said Barron, who worked with a stellar ensemble of musicians at Homestead Studios on these recordings. "I think, looking back, that (King) was a really big influence on me, melodically and lyrically. I also go really into R&B, Motown, and soul music later on, and I think that shows on this record, like Etta James, Billie Holiday, The Ronettes, Otis Redding. The emotion and power behind their vocals really moved me, and for some reason I have always been fascinated with music and objects from the past. I love the nostalgia of it all." 

Barron has also been at it a while, despite being still in the young/up-and-coming category, she's still been singing since she was barely four-years-old. She was also classically trained for 10 years and performed in school musicals. Once she started writing her own songs, her theater work, and the potent dramas of the opera sutured into her songs--albeit transmitted into the form of a blend of folk and soul. "I'm also just a very sensitive person and I think that comes through when I sing," said Barron. 

Her new album will be released soon, but today, you can stream the lead single, "Wanna Know..." ^^
And tonight, at the Lager House, Barron will announce the title of said-new-album, as well as perform her new songs. She'll be joined by White Bee, and The True Blue

While she was enmeshed in the theater as a teenager, she realized that while she had a strength for expressing her emotions, acting and the whole thespian life just wasn't for her. She started writing her own songs after she turned 13 and eventually started performing at open mics and eventually performing shows. Though nerves would surge before those first performances, she always felt a deep sense of fulfillment afterwards--indicating to her that this was the right path. 

She studied at Vanderbilt in Nashville, a decision inspired by the city's active music community. She thrived under the insights of songwriting and musical-history professors while in school there, surrounded by "a really rich musical history and all different types of music." 

But that wasn't necessarily the undoubtedly "formative" moment for her, because she still feels like that formation continues. "Every day I'll fall in love with a new artist or genre, and a lot of my songs are all over the place. One day, I'll write something that sounds like garage rock, and the next I'll write an Adele-esque pop ballad!" 

Pop songs deal with love differently than other genres. While Barron bridges soul, R&B and folk to a bit of pop's melody and catchy hooks, she's definitely dealing with more complex, heart-heavy, unlucky-in-love feelings than your typical pop fare. 

"I think piano, the instrument I generally write on, really lends itself to more soulful, emotive music, and I think the songs naturally take shape that way when I'm writing. But my songs also come from personal experiences, which is why I think there's so much feeling infused in them. Like a lot of musicians, for me, writing songs is pretty much my coping mechanism, and a lot of the situations I write about are complicated and sometimes heartbreaking. It can be emotionally taxing for me to perform these songs in front of people, because it feels like I'm sharing some of my most personal experiences and feelings with an entire room of people... But there's usually one person who comes up to me to say they really connected to a certain song or lyric and that makes it worth it to me."

Barron worked with Jimmy Dixon at the aforementioned Homestead Studios, working with Max Bauhof on drums, Phil Hale on keyboards, Dave Vasella and Garret Gaiana on horns, and John Barron and Alex Lyons playing the bass parts. You can also hear Mario Sulkasana playing a potent piano accompaniment one a couple songs, as well as Natalie Frakes playing vioin throughout. 

"I was really touched and grateful to all of the incredible musicians who were willing to help out and play on this record, and also by people who donated to my crowdfunding campaign," said Barron. "I definitely wouldn't have been able to make the record without that help...." 

You can anticipate a couple more singles being released by Barron throughout the upcoming months, leading to the eventual release. And she's already at work on the next batch of songs. "I feel like my sound is constantly evolving, so it's really exciting to work on new material, but also be able to share this body of work with everyone." 

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Street Corner Music - Record Store Day

There's something about Street Corner Music in Oak Park that always draws me back... It's the one store I'm sure to visit on every Record Store Day... 

While working on a feature for the Detroit Free Press, I was asking shop owners around the Metro Detroit area, including People's, Hello, Stormy Records, Dearborn  Music, and more, about items in their retail collection (or treasures they choose to store away) that are considerably rare. If not ultra rare, I also asked about items that were unique, special, held a certain significance to the store, or were just too weird to believe...!

Aaron Anderson is the store's manager, and he told me this excellent story about a longtime patron of Street Corner. It really communicated to me the poignancy that these flat, black and circular discs of pressed, groovy wax can bear between a sleeve of paper. Every record you hold has a story, some big, some little; a journey that they've been on....

I'll let Aaron Anderson take it from here...

Records do not only capture the music of the time, sometimes they capture a historic moment in time and the person who was there. Carl was an early regular customer at Street Corner Music and an all around great guy. When I started working here, I did not care much for jazz, and Carl was a through and through jazzman. Early on he told me "I have faith in you... Sooner or later, all intelligent people come around to jazz music!" When Carl passed away it saddened us, and even now when the someone mentions the "electric" Miles Davis records, we often quote his harsh comments on the subject. 

When we purchased his record collection, we got a glimpse into a jazz lover who was there from the beginning! It was well known that Carl frequented the legendary Detroit jazz club The Blue Bird Inn in the 1950's. What was unknown was that for as cool as he was, he was also a starstruck autograph seeker. In 1958, the Miles Davis Quintet played the Blue Bird Inn and Carl had the wisdom and nerve to ask Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Philly Joe Jones to autograph his records. We have kept the first press copies of "Cookin' With The Miles Davis Quintet" and "Blue Train" that are signed by the three jazz legends. 

The records remind us  of these three jazz giants humble beginnings and of the amazing people we have come to call friends here at Street Corner Music. A moment in time that can never be repressed or remastered, truly one of a kind copies. While the condition of the two records are far from mint, the loving and personalized autographs to our dear friend Carl more than make up for it. The man who believed in the power of jazz music and in me so much that he foresaw our collision course. Two records previously owned by a man so cool that John Coltrane wrote "To my main man Carl". And if you were wondering why Miles Davis would sign a copy of Blue Train, you probably know enough to know that's just the kind of thing Miles would do.

Miles Davis "Cookin' With The Miles Davis Quintet" Prestige 7094 (VG/VG-) (1957, deep groove, NYC address, flat edge, autographed)
John Coltrane "Blue Train" Blue Note 1577 (VG/VG-) (1957, deep groove, W. 63rd address, ear in dead wax, autographed)
Value = ??? - we had an offer of $2,000 about 10 years ago for "Blue Train" by itself but turned it down

You can follow Street Corner Music online, or via Facebook

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

W.O.M.B. - Soundtrack for a Heated Conversation

Take off your rose-colored glasses. Take your fingers out of your ears. Stop changing the subject.

W.O.M.B. is a five-piece Detroit hardcore punk band whose name is an acronym for "War on Man-Babies." Their defiance and provocation does not stop at their name's mere challenge against the patriarchy and the outing of machismo's vulnerabilities, flaws and hypocrisies, said defiance and provocation expands and is imbued upon each of their songs in contexts that address several important and frustratingly-ongoing/unresolved issues of inequality, misogyny, prejudice, greed, apathy, complacency...

We can all speak up or get involved with a cause for the first time, if we feel so inspired--it's definitely always easier to stay couched in the status quo... But W.O.M.B. are not just any punk band throwing up middle fingers for shock value - each member has been involved and supported various causes and groups working to effect change, to manifest tangible/actionable results in the struggle for justice and a transformation away from a culture of myriad toxicity. That being said, the music speaks for itself...

W.O.M.B. released this intense 11-minute set of music at the end of March - and you'll likely hear most of the five songs that comprise Soundtrack for a Heated Conversation at their next show, Sun., April 22 at Cellarmen's in Hazel Park. The lyrics would no doubt start a certifiably "heated" conversation, but because these songs initiate topics of conversations that are typically all-out-avoided if possible, the music, the insistent rhythms, the ferocious guitars, the frenetic time signatures, the fortissimo frenzy of each member in a harmony of rage, that energy is necessary. If no one else wants to talk about it, it's going to take W.O.M.B. to scream about it.

More info

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Shawn Butzin's Westbound Train

Shawn Butzin has a new song from his upcoming EP, Adventures, that's all about what it's like falling in love in a place like Michigan. It's a strummy, toe-tapping Americana-pop tune that's adorned with the accompaniment of a pedal-steel and a wheezy organ, the kind of stuff you'd anticipate in a country ballad. But let's also talk about how Butzin has a naturally brassy tenor embodying that same country-aesthetic.

But here we are, in Michigan, so far north that we can touch Canada, and so far east that we could hit Niagara Falls in a few hours, and yet this up-and-coming songwriter might strike you as something from Nashville, Southern Cali, or maybe Austin...and Butzin is bringing brio and panache to this embrace of the country-rock/Americana aesthetic. And now, after all that talk about being an eastern state, here's a song about heading west... The debut single from Butzin's EP.

...."runnin' from my daddy's ol' shotgun..." ♫.... "I needed beauty to escape the damage I've done..." 
Butzin's evokes that outlaw-on-the-run aesthetic and imbues it effectively with his poet-ly songwriter sincerity. Country tunes don't survey the same kind of laments or starkness as the blues might, but songs like Butzin's are still narrating a life that's encroached upon hardship stakes, only with this single, it's about a longing, a search, without a desination albeit, but sort of an escaping-kind-of-search toward that untold horizon, with a heart full of love, to get away from some none-too-sunny circumstances. And that energy, that escape, that adventure, is present in the propulsive rhythms, the restorative warmth of the back up choir's harmonies and those cathartic guitar expressions. 

Adventures is out May 31
You can see Butzin and the Buskers April 22nd @ PJs Lager House
with Ian Lee Lamb and the Whiskey Charmers

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Good Things About Your Potential New GoverNerd

Ryan Henry Cox is a musician. He’s also a sports trainer, teacher, intermediate philosopher, tutor, and a father; he’s many things. But he’s also running for Governor of Michigan this year. I’ve written about Ryan in the past, regarding his band, the Good Things. The Good Things are/is just Cox, at least in the compositional/creation/recording stages. If and when (and emphasis on “if”) The Good Things ever perform, he assembles a capable crew of versatile musicians to help bring his clattery-but-charismatic “fractured pop” stories of melody and melodrama to life.

 In fact, while Ryan is busying himself with an ambitious run for the Governorship, he’s getting ready to release an epic, (and emphasis on epic) album called Defeats The Porpoise, an intricately realized serial-adventure style concept album pop opera imbued heavily with spaghetti western grit, compelling magical realism and polychromatic comic book whimsy…

That being said, I’m talking about an album of songs, but it is, as you’ll hear later on this summer, so much more. A fleet of unconventional or eccentric instruments, some of them underutilized in the “indie-rock” realms and some of them actually invented or fused together out of necessity, so it’ll wind up sounding like a sun-splashed baroque-pop album of chimes, strings, hums, croons and various other characterful intonations.

But about a month ago, I picked Ryan’s brain as he gets ready to dig in for four considerably intense months of his DIY campaign. As you can see by his poster, he has no intention to actually win or even make his way into pack with other frontrunners. For him, it’s about creating a unique kind of impact. Or sort of an inception, if you will…, a change of the narrative.

Do you know if this is going to be worth it?
I don’t know that it will be worth it. I only know that it COULD be worth it, and that is enough to try for…But you’re going to notice that some themes in Defeats The Porpoise connect directly to my campaign. The idea of taking something on that’s way bigger than you, out of concern for others, and not caring if I’m likely to ‘fail.’

I wonder if you chose to name your band “The Good Things” because you, as a candidate, have this drive to bridge disparate and entrenched factions and see “the good in everyone…”
I wear my brain on my sleeve, I guess…It’s not optimism—optimism can be easily deluded. I’m more of a realist. There is good in everyone. That isn’t optimistic, it’s real. I don’t need optimism to find good things. ‘What matters in the end’ is a guiding principal in my life, now. How will I feel about  myself based on my history, while living in my ‘death bed.’ If I were reading my biography, would I see myself as someone worth being, someone worth having in the world?

And things are still going alright, running as an Independent?
Of course! Running for a party would ‘defeat the porpoise…’ as it were…. But that is bittersweet. Because it’s kind of incredible how many people of how many different backgrounds have found me and are reaching out with their stories and worries…But, after starting this campaign, it’s much clearer to me now how badly our state wants to keep Independents out of office.

The laces are a bit double-knotted, in terms of parties entrenched against each other. You’re one voice entering a big room of two warring sides yelling at each other.
Yep, that’s why I shut up and listen, first and foremost. People tend to be more patient and their minds a bit more open when you carefully and courteously listen to them first, listen to them sincerely, and then respond. I can’t come out swinging, or people just hide behind party lines and assumptions. But even more fundamental to the system, our campaign laws are stacked against Independents, and promote candidates of the  major parites. I have no chance of winning in “traditional terms,” but I’ll still “win….” I already am winning, in a sense.

And we would presume to ask the Independent what their goal or end-game is, or whether they think they even have a chance, and if not, why bother….People might read a paragraph about you and make premature conclusions about you.
That’s politics in a nutshell. Try to change minds that are certain they won’t change in attempt to influence society. Entering politics at this level and standing apart from the parties has a sort of an emotionally masochistic aspect to it—I know I’ll mostly just get beat down and pushed around or ignored in all of this. But sacrifice is key to worthy achievements.

Is the goal to shift the collective mindset? Change the conversation? Open minds to the overlooked issues?
Definitely. But far from the main goal. That's more of a theme, I suppose. A politician better have some practical goals to pair with any conceptual/inspiration/general intentions. Anyone can say, "I stand with everyone. I stand for [insert anything and everything.]" But that doesn’t mean anything if they can't tell you the solution that they are standing behind.

How do you approach the beast of cynicism? The presupposition that every politician wants something to gain with the job
My slogan is "Don't Vote for Ryan Cox"… Kind of knocks presuppositions off balance. And the question I ask most is, "What do you think we should do?" Then I shut up and listen again. That usually sets up a pretty level playing field for a deeper, friendlier, and more productive conversation.

Do you feel a kinship with the wave of ...for lack of any other candidates that we've seen rise in a post Bernie/Trump era?  I'm thinking of the percentage of women, persons of color and even Trans candidates coming to the fore….did it spring from that, similarly, for you? This calling? This cultural moment? This imperative, of sorts
Yes, but not because they are progressive...The kinship comes from their willingness to accept the (often incredibly ironic) challenges that come with trying to help others who are suspicious of your intentions; the willingness to be insulted and despised in order to help those same people. To be honest, I am quite miserable much of the time during this campaign. This is emotionally tumultuous, isolating and lonely, straining mentally and physically, stretching my intelligence and waking hours to my limits.

Seeing others take the same stand knowing they cannot "win" but still may do great things to better the lives of others...yeah, there is kinship there? Or what about just breaking down a platform? You’ll often see candidates whittle their platform down to a catchy motto… But it never suggests why they’re running. Why are you running?
I'm running because I don't feel I am doing enough to achieve my life goals. If you know me personally, you know that I've been making massive strides to improve all aspects that I think are subpar in myself in order to achieve my most desired goals. One of those is to dedicate my life to helping others and leaving the world in a better state than I came into it. Yes, trying to engage with people at differing interest levels, differing perspectives, and differing attention spans has been tricky!

You’ve got a website up….
Yes, and you can see that all of my Policy Reports are written in 3 ways:
1. a simple breakdown at the top of the page of the basic concepts and suggested solutions regarding an issue or issue set (for those who just want a quick overview of that platform perspective and for those who are interested enough to stop at the website, but not about to read a 5 page report!)
2. A more substantial summarization section that brings up more explanations, solutions, and context
3. A full report on a legislative idea with sources and comprehensive explanations (this is more for journalists, political researchers, nerds like myself, other politicians to steal, etc)
And each one has a catch phrase….

You can find out more about Ryan Henry Cox’s run for Governor of Michigan HERE
Follow The Good Things on Facebook, here.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Charming Disaster - April Showers Tour (@ PJs Lager House)

Charming Disaster photo by Sunrise Alexis Winburn

Charming Disaster could be to folk-rock what Detroit's ADULT. is to techno. Two dynamic personalities with an unmatched chemistry, harmoniously putting their talents to reinventing and reinvigorating a genre, all the while conjuring a dynamic theatricality and lush arrangements with just two voices, two hearts, two brains and four arms.

This Brooklyn-based duo make the sinister sound so sweet, and bring a signature kind of glamour to a cool kind of gloom-pop. Fans of the hit sci-fi podcast Welcome To Night Vale would have heard Ellia Bisker and Jeff Morris' paranormal love song "Ghost Story" featured as a complimentary serenade to those humorous/horror serial episodes.

Charming Disaster released Cautionary Tales last Spring, an enchanting composite of gothic Americana, a cross-up of old-world string-band and vaudevillian pizazz with a murkier murder-ballad rock haunting. Using pianos and strings, ukulele and gutiar, foot percussion and finely-spun vocal melodies full of emotion and narrative melodrama, they cast a spell akin to the quirky macabre motifs of Edward Gorey or Tim Burton, and splash in a bit of hard-boiled noir ambiance.

But there is a wink and a kick and a bit of a playful twirl to their ghoulish waltzes, with their dreamy vocal harmonies particularly adding an enticing reverie to their baroque-adorned rock.

Charming Disaster are touring in to town on Thurs., April 19 They'll be at PJs Lager House with three of my favorite Detroit-area musical experiences..... First, there's Ypsi's Little Traps, a banjo/guitar/pedal-steel ensemble that mixes the sunniest kind of indie-pop with an authentic Americana/country-rustled warble. Then there's Kate Hinote Americana/blues balladeer Kate Hinote, and the mesmerizing harmonists and folk stylists comprising Kubat, Finlay & Rose.

Charming DisasterApril 19PJs Lager Housewith Little Traps, Kate Hinote, and Kubat/Finlay & RoseMORE INFO

Friday, April 6, 2018

Ben Keeler's 'Movo Daring'

Ben Keeler Movo Daring Release Party Friday, April 20 @ The Loving Touch w/Mango Lane & Ancient Language MORE INFO

Some songwriters just know how to surge the serotonin... They find chord progressions that just pull you ever onward, even effectively lift you up, and their melodic vocals spiral smoothly with simple iterations of "having a really good time" with you! And that's Ben Keeler to a capital T.... With Will Shattuck on drums and Ricky Ruggero on bass, the Ben Keeler band are getting ready to celebrate the release of Movo Daring a soul loosener of an album that unfurls the aura and opens up the windows to let in the "Sunshine!"

Call it power-pop if you will; Keeler's MO as a song creator is making balletic riffs, hooky drum parts and honeyed croons and choruses into something that embodies a kind of exuberance... Not pop for the sake of pop, not any kind of mindless melodrama or fabricated frolic, but substantive short stories from the heart, arced into melodic ribbons so catchy it makes you remember why (and how) music can be so fun and rejuvenating to listen to...

I last caught up with Keeler when he was unveiling a single ("Sunshine") in the winter of 2017--a song that would wind up on Movo Daring. 

Keeler's kinetic rock signature is shining at subtle-to-surging moments like the unassuming bridge of "I Don't Want No," as it builds to a final chorus. Not only is this song exemplary of his cavorting cascaded riff-styles along the frets, but the bridge goes quiet as the guitars stream along with a subdued business, it's a radiance that simmers into these two full measures of just choppy riffs where you can almost see him grinning at you, before it bursts....

...And so many of these songs are full of those energizing bursts--that's the kind of "pop" I'm talking about with Keeler, it's ebullient, bounces back and it stretches and it launches and it stutter-steps and it can maybe even do a backflip. It's the kind of pop tunes that draw you in, because they're radiating a certain spirit that you can't put your finger on, but you wanna see it and experience it up close. You want those riffs to burst into you. You want to move with it. It dares you to...

Keeler's been moving around a bit in the years leading up to 2016/2017, spending some time in Chicago and San Francisco before resettling back here in Michigan to work on music. I think all that movo-movement is demonstrated in the propulsive arrangements he's got on this album---which you can hear, live, at the Loving Touch on April 20th. 

Monday, April 2, 2018

Digging In with Josh Malerman & Rising to the Occasion with 'Unbury Carol'

An Interview with Josh Malerman Unbury Carol
Josh Malerman and I climbed into the attic of a library and turned all the lights off. 

The interview you’re about to read finds us in pitch black darkness, speaking our answers and questions out into the ether and unable to see each other’s expressions. Malerman is a nationally-celebrated author of horror novels, and recently nominated for the Bram Stoker Prize. So obviously I wanted to evoke a creepy kind of ambiance to elevate the energy of a conversation concerning the horror genre.

Malerman’s next novel is called Unbury Carol. Carol is a weary but compassionate hardscrabble woman who has a gruesome secret—she is prone to severe spells that send her into a comatose state so deep that she appears to be dead beyond doubt. She has fallen into these death-like states sporadically throughout her life, depending on a very small number of people to keep this knowledge and enlist them as protectors, in a sense, against anyone getting the wrong idea and fast tracking a hasty funeral....

....Oh, but what if someone close to her betrays this confidence? What happens after she doesn’t wake up? And, as she falls through an ethereal plain that none of us can imagine glimpsing, how, if at all, might she extricate herself from an animated darkness. What of the townsfolk? What of the treacherous Trail that connects a series of small towns, towns rife with superstitious people and rattled by a culture of Outlaws. Who will be an ally to a woman appearing to be dead?   

“But I wanted to remove the damsel in distress formula from it,” said Malerman. His breakout novel, 2014’s Bird Box, found a similarly weary but very resolute woman as the main protagonist, courageously ferrying her two four-year-old children up a river with their eyes requiring to be shielded from a world stalked by supernatural creatures. That story will be adapted into a motion picture later this year, starring Sandra Bullock and Sarah Paulson. Unbury Carol, however, invites readers to follow the title character across the threshold of this mortal coil, and into a vividly-imagined underworld where her earthly senses are still engaged on both sides of the veil, as it were… She can hear the voices of whoever’s trying to bury her, which means she can also eavesdrop on news that a former lover, a famous outlaw, might be heading her way…

“But I realized, after doing research on actual carnival performers who would bury themselves alive and escape, that I really wanted the onus to be on Carol to try to survive this. So, what if it has to come down to her figuring out how to get out of this alive? Whether she does or not, you have to read the book…”

But a famous outlaw known as James Moxie is on his way…for whatever good that might do. He springs himself into action when he hears that Carol, the love of his life, is in peril. That being so, it was Moxie who, several years earlier, abandoned Carol; he just couldn’t deal with being emotionally involved with a woman who, every few months, appeared to die for a day or longer….

“And if you spend too much time on Moxie’s feelings of guilt about that, then you’ve just got this trembling, self-loathing guy traveling up The Trail. But if you spend too much time on his love or anyone’s love for Carol, then you’re suddenly writing a romance novel—which is fine—but that’s not the goal.”

The horror aspects of Unbury Carol come with contemplating what happens when we die…or “appear” to die. How do you save your mortal soul when you can’t move a muscle? What if you’re at the mercy of the morals of those around you? And can any of us comprehend the possibility of something appearing to be magic, or even witchcraft, manifesting itself so as to be verified by your own eyes but presenting itself without any other graspable explanation.

Unbury Carol Launch PartyMon., April 97pm-9pmOtus Supply345 E. 9 Mile (Ferndale)MORE INFO

Your brain might automatically ascribe certain tropes and time periods to the story, but nothing is specified. What is specified is that “it’s a superstitious age, where Moxie can become a legend through word of mouth because of a trick that he performed, to where (an antagonist) would fear him because of that ‘legend.’” One man who doesn’t fear Moxie is a rival outlaw, a monster of a man known as Smoke. Those plotting to literally put Carol into a plot have hired the perfidious Smoke to catch up to Moxie and keep him from interfering.

The chase is on, as it were. Or it’s a race. A journey. A hunt. It’s a mode of tension that Malerman has become excellent at affecting—with Bird Box taking us up the river, or 2016’s Black Mad Wheel involving an odyssey through a desert, or the short stories of Goblin finding characters following or seeking out the sources of various obsessions or urban legends or whatever else might have cast a spell upon them. Carol is on a journey back from the dead, just as Smoke is on a dark journey to snuff out Moxie.

“(The journeys) are a natural tension builder. It almost says to you—that the further (the characters) go into the journey, the deeper they’ll go into the horror. Chapter by chapter you can feel it. Each chapter doesn’t have to out-freak the freaky chapter before it. It doesn’t have to rush to the high notes of the piano, it can drop back for a bass note here or there, but I want to always keep it rising as they go along the way to the end.”

But just as Moxie has to fend off Smoke, Carol will have her hands full, even in a deathlike state, with fending off a villain of her own while she’s “under,” and that’s a wraithlike entity, given chilling personality by Malerman, that he names Rot. “I started to see, as I started writing, a woman who is super strong and interesting and knowledgeable, but…happens to have this … condition.” So, you’ll just have to read it to see if and how Carol can outwit rot!

Suffice to say, scare-wise, Carol contains what could be some of the most frightening, but also imaginative and vividly rendered imagery in any of Malerman’s work so far. “I’ve been asked before: do you scare yourself?’ Well, I can tend to have some freaky dreams now and then. But, typically, as a writer, my answer is that if you can see the scare coming, then it isn’t that scary, right? But really, I was just rewriting a short story of mine and I got to a point where I felt legitimate chills. That’s the greatest feeling in the world. How can you pull that off?”

But writing about a character who’s carried into a coffin against her will? 

“.....Let me put it to you this way,” Malerman says, “I have since told Allison (Laakko, artist and partner-in-life-and-imagination-with-Malerman) that I want to be buried above ground…with no embalming fluid, and my casket unlocked, in a mausoleum if need be….you can even lock the gate, I’ll happily get out and scream for a groundskeeper. I mean, (researching this) really did a number on me. I don’t wanna be underground!”

Find more info about Josh Malerman HERE
And read about the release party for Unbury Carol HERE