Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Science for Sociopaths - Love & Life

If not properly channeled, our emotions can get the better of us.  Best, then, to channel those emotions into a song. Tempestuous or overwhelming affections, impulses, reactions and ruminations can be wound and threaded into melodies, rhythmic chords and minimal percussive heartbeats for the betterment of the soul...and Maggie Cocco has that process down to a science....

Writing, recording, and performing under the moniker Science for Sociopaths, Detroit-area singer/songwriter Maggie Cocco is getting ready to drop two EPs next weekend.

Cocco has been writing and performing around the metro Detroit area for several years and one thing has remained constant - there's this fearless addressing or expression of sentiment and truth, coiled into rhymed lyrics that bridge indie-pop to a soulful blues-rock, taking on a wider gazed perspective on "life" and "love." In fact, her two new EPs, Love and Life drew inspiration from icons like Carole King, Emmylou Harris, or Patti Smith, but also contemporary commentators on daily emotional tumult, like Kelly Clarkson or Taylor Swift.

Produced with Nashville-based Benjamin Warsaw, these two ambitious EPs tackle the big questions: how we can feel so out of our minds around circumstances involving love, loved ones, close bonds, or even self-esteem, then taking on a more existential look of forks in the proverbial road of life and how, if at all possible, to be one's best self.... Now, as heavy as that sounds, the "science" part is finding a way to address these truths in a graceful arrangement of music and voice...

Science for Sociopaths

Dual EP Release Show
June 1st - at DIME
1265 Griswold St., Detroit
More info

Friday, May 18, 2018

Ancient Language (Interview) + "At Last We Are Nothing"

Ancient Language are releasing a new batch of sonic worlds (condensed into 5-minute scopes) on June 2nd and the newest single is streaming below...

This six-piece post rock ensemble's new album,  HYGGE, glides, marches, or drifts dreamily with sculpted arrangements of cinematic strings and cymbal crashes, chill saxophones and stratospheric guitars, warming pianos, and airily tender vocals threading heavily meditative lyrics.

This song sets a pulse for your breathing, with chimes and a calming bass essentially stretching things out and letting in some oxygen; then the drums kick in and set a stride, the piece moves forward and the viola comes in... This is what Ancient Language have always been best at, steadily adding more sonic pieces to the collage with a carefulness so as not to overbear the ears, but to harmoniously bring you into the next dream state (verse, bridge, etc). After the second chorus scoops you up and evokes a sense of floating, you could snug those headphones to your ear and key in on the subtleties of any element and find a quiet richness - if it's the breathlessness of the vocals, the cherubic simplicity of the looping synth melody, or the variably expressive or sparse booming hum of the bass....

Founding member Christopher Jarvis said that the recording process for this one was "...started with (brother/bassist) Zach and I writing demos in Arizona and sending them back and forth to Matt (Beyer)." (And this goes back almost two years, now.) (Beyer) would add something, we'd add something or take something away, sculpting the songs as they took shape. It was actually really exciting to work this way. I'd never given up so much control before. (Beyer) wrote so many amazing melodies and progressions. When Zach and I moved back to Michigan we continued writing and recording together, eventually adding Abby(Abigail Jaske) on viola. The whole thing was recorded in (Beyers)'s basement. 

Continuing in their character, this is music to sort of pause you in your daily anxieties and hustles--with contemplative lyrics that make you wonder just quite how that surmising is delivered... At last, after all our worries and wanderings, we are but  nothing? In sort of a zen way? Or is it like, At last! with excitement, as though one had been anticipating this all along...yes, we are nothing. But this song is not about worrying where we'll end up and it isn't existentially casting off what significance our actions may have "in the end," it's more of a song about being in the moment.

"I think my approach has shifted away from the production aspect," Jarvis said, "and now I'll focus more on melody and emotion. I'm trying to get at something honest and truthful instead of just making music that sounds cool or music you can party to or chill to or whatever. The music I like is music that makes me feel something real, even if it's challenging; so that's what I try to do." 

And then he uses that beautiful word, "maximal..."  "...My music has always been pretty maximal so creating music for 5 or 6 people wasn't that much of a challenge. We went in writing these songs with the intent of playing them live without a computer, so naturally the arrangements were a little more minimal at first but we ended up adding a lot of instruments in recording so I think it ended up being just as complex anyway."

The best kinds of post-rock odysseys will do that - even though it's a complex meshwork of musical elements interweaving together - it is about a peacefulness... A sudden throw into sharp relief of the very big picture that is, you, me, and everything...

And yes, the album title does come from the Danish art of comfort... "hygge," at its core is about an approach to life that is about recognizing and living within a moment of peacefulness. "We're all searching for wellness and peace in our lives," said Jarvis. "And it's so fleeting but I think music can be a way into that..." 

Ancient Language - HYGGE release party
Saturday, June 2nd
with Man Mountain and Earth Engine

Thursday, May 10, 2018

High Strung - New Single: "If You Wanna Roll"

The High Strung are back in action. Back in rare form, really. It's been almost four years since their last album, I, Anybody, but they're returning with even more energy and soul as guitarist Mark Owen, a co-founding member, comes back to the fold in time for Quiet Riots, a new batch of songs the group plans on releasing later this summer. I'm thrilled to debut the latest single, "If You Wanna Roll..."

....I was curious if singer/guitarist Josh Malerman and artist Allison Laakko could spin together a music video earlier this week for my favorite song off the new album.... And I give you...

Owen rejoins Malerman (guitar/vocals), Chad Stocker (bass/vocals), and Derek Berg (drums/vocals) after a time away. That trio sustained the band during a 6-year span throughout much of the 2000's, during which they went on an odyssey-like non-stop tour together. Guitar sage Stephen Palmer is already marking his eighth year in the band and you'll hear his sinewy guitar streams throughout this song and particularly blazing as it builds into the second chorus. Not that you need a condensed history of the band, but its notable how intertwined their personal and musical lives have been. They basically grew up together, and have been making music together for half of their respective lives--and that chemistry radiates infectiously throughout Quiet Riots; the soundtrack of five sonic muralists, each keenly aware of where to fill in their instrumental spaces in graceful harmony of polychromatic power-pop.

"If You Wanna Roll" embodies the essence of all great Strung songs in that it lifts you to your feet and implores you into any kind of kinetic whimsy, motion or burst that fits your mood, be it a jog, a dance, or just a stretch that shakes off the dust of a lingeringly chilly Spring. Three guitars create a cresting tide and the dynamic basslines coil across the buoyant percussion. But "Roll" gleams with that chiming piano and those anthemic harmonies. When Malerman "bah-dah-dah's" his way through the bridge, it evokes a sense of running up flights of stone stairs two at a time until you reach a precipice and leap into a levitation, carried by the backing vocals that assure you not to worry about the laws of physics... "...we'll pretend / we'll pretend..."

The song rolls past self-imposed barriers, it cartwheels over any neurotic self-doubt and it steamrolls apprehension or uncertainties. It's zen...but it's also exuberant and ebullient. And it's telling you, dear listener, that if the proverbial spirit moves you, and said spirit is willing, than they'll roll right along with you... ... I think that zen-vibe I'm picking up is coming from a band that's equipped to reach another level. They're probably already there. You'll probably hear it yourself, too, not just in this song - but when the entirety of Quiet Riots comes to light.

The High Strung
Performing next Saturday
May 12
@ Trixie's in Hamtramck
INFOwith Matt Jones and Drift Mouth 

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Virginia Violet & The Rays - On the Fringe (Interview)

I think they call it soul music because it makes you feel that much more alive. The drum is like a pulse, the brass makes the blood in your veins feel electric, the percussive hooks get you dancing and the vocals fill up the room and fly up to the rafters. That's the kind of music, a music with a signature kind of energy, that Virginia and Joe were drawn to when they started working on songs together in 2016. It wasn't long before they formed Virginia Violet & The Rays--the story of which lies in the interview below...

This coming Friday, Virginia Violet & The Rays celebrate their debut album, On The Fringe, at the Loving Touch in Ferndale. Below, we've got the lead single from their soundcloud (where you can also find their first EP), and right after that, their second single, "Where I Belong," which just came out Friday as a music video.

While countless other contemporary bands may dig deeper into searching for strange new sounds on synthesizers and sequencers, Joe Myers and Virginia Violet realized there was still so much raw, untapped potential left to be revitalizing from the classic soul and funk of the 60's and 70's, particularly Motown and its sometimes grittier or higher-energy offshoot, Northern Soul....

...And I feel like energy is the word I'll repeat four more times before this post about Virginia Violet & The Rays is done...

A band of nine musicians would inherently generate a lot of kinetics, but their arrangements, tempos and key signatures are meticulously composed to manifest movement, whether its frenetic or just a slow swoon, with exuberant serotonin-rushes from the warmth of the saxophones, trumpet and trombone, to the ambient flavors of the organ, that extra rock n roll kick of the guitar/bass/drums, and then Virginia's splendid vocals, that can glimmer across a spectrum of emotions, so expressive and grand that you wouldn't need the visuals of the video above to otherwise suggest how vibrant and animated she, and the entire band, can be.

The band includes Eric Childress (drums), Tommy Porter (guitar), Evan Mercer (keys), Garrett Gaina (baritone sax), Adam Dib (alto sax), Chris Kendall (trombone), and Dave Vessella (trumpet). You, of course, can hear Virginia's vocals leading the way, with Joe providing sleek rhythmic anchor on the bass.

I spoke with Joe and Virginia recently, and they mentioned the importance of "balance" when it comes to composing for a large ensemble. Akin to the Dap-Kings, Mayer Hawthorne, Leon Bridges, or Lianne LaHavas, the songwriting duo appreciate that balance builds into optimal an harmonization of such distinctly effervescent flavors and arranging them into a balletic composite of metre and melody that's meant to, more than anything else, set a groove....

...and this is the kind of groove you just want to let loose to..., dance to, clap your hands to, close your eyes while singing along to...., perfectly inline with the spirit of Motown.

On The Fringe was produced in Woodbridge by Gordon Smith (of The Kickstand Band), with assistance in mastering by Adam Cox.

Release Party, May 11
The Loving Touch
with Ryan Dillaha & The Miracle Men
and DJ Ben Van Camp

When and how did the band start? Was it always a 9-piece ensemble? Was it always inclined to soul? 
Joe Myers:    Virginia and I met in early 2016 after I had just gotten back from Europe. I spent some time traveling and my old band was breaking up, so I wanted to start fresh in Detroit. We hit it off over our mutual love of old Motown. But I had also just been turned on to Northern Soul when I was over in Europe. It blew me away that there was so much English interest in old Detroit soul records that I had never even heard of. It was definitely a "where has this been all my life?"-kind of moment, and I got super into the idea doing something like that. Virginia brought strong musical ideas and wanted a big ensemble, so after we started writing and got the band together I don’t think there was ever a chance of us being anything else. Motown runs deep.

What's the key to arranging all the various instrumental parts? And, for that matter, what's the key for capturing your signature soul-sound?
Joe:   Normally, I’ll come up with the music and cut a demo at home with all the instrumentation and then send it over to Virginia but it varies all the time. Sometimes she comes up with the structure on guitar and sends me an idea to work off of but she handles all the lyrics. Usually we’ll do the melody together. It’s pretty back in forth but once we’ve agreed on most of it, we’ll introduce it to the band and make adjustments with them. I think the key for our creation process is balance. You need a strong foundation to get through the trenches but being open-minded to change is essential with a writing partner.

What drew you to go back to a classic soul sound, and what is it you always aspire to create when you work toward a new song
Virginia Violet:  I’ve always had a soft spot for songs that I can dance to but, being raised on a lot of gospel and folk music from my mom, I have always been drawn to strong voices telling stories, putting their soul into everything they’re writing. I think that expression of creativity encompasses soul music to me. I aspire to create characters and tell stories in each song that reflect the experiences of life through different perspectives.

What was the recording experience like for 'On the Fringe?'  What were some standout moments from the recording?
Virginia:   Recording ‘On the Fringe’ was a summer long process, a lot of sweat and love in that record. My favorite moments of recording were the sweaty sweaty days I spent in Woodbridge putting down my vocals, playing with Allison the tiny cat under the bed-- we became best friends.

What inspired the title? And what, overall, guided it, in terms of, just, what kind of record you wanted to make, or what experience you wanted to foster for a listener?
Virginia:   The title was inspired from a painting my grandmother did titled "On the Fringe". The phrase represents where we are as a band, as we approach the release of our first full length album.  Like the rest of the experiences I have had with this project, the record guided itself into its own unique thing that I don't think any of us could have planned for at the beginning.

Joe, what do you appreciate most about the contemporary Detroit music scene?
Joe:   Diversity. I love going to things like Dally and WheteverFest because it’s an opportunity to be exposed to great bands I would never know about. There are phenomenal bands in Detroit but you’ve gotta do your homework. Or keep up with a blog that will do some of that homework for you. Thank God for you, Jeff Milo.

Virginia, what about the road ahead? Plans for the rest of the year and beyond? 
Virginia:    Just keep on pushing and writing tons of new music! Maybe tour at the end of the summer? We’re shooting for another release by the fall of this year.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

DUDE - Single Premier: "Own The Day"

DUDE's lead single from their forthcoming second album, Autobiograffiti, is the kind of song you'd like to glide on for twice as long as it lasts, if not longer. This waltzy, fluttery lullaby of a heart-on-the-sleeve psyche-pop ballad only lingers for 154 seconds, but with its warbling guitar, tender celesta twinkles, a purring B3 organ and singer/songwriter Tony DeNardo intonating at his most celestial, you're left levitating there long after it fades - as though this could have flowed on to "Hey Jude"-level expansions.

DeNardo has always been a thoughtful musician, passionate about how music can express deeper feelings and philosophies. And I think this song, more than ever before, is demonstrating that sensitive side. Having survived a stroke 15 years ago, DeNardo persevered, unwilling to ever let go of a life full of music; he is about to leave on tour with his bandmates in The Muggs, soon. But these lyrics are evident of a zen-like appreciation for every day that comes, valuing the simplicity and the purity of life.

This is also an interesting quasi-departure from some of the more driving, jangly, riffy rock that DUDE's ensemble have created on previous records, but it's a welcomed bit of musical mediation. "Own the day..." What a powerful little song, able to say so much in its arrangement and in its sparse lyrics. Take it to heart.

DUDE is on Facebook and you can get the single here.