Friday, June 29, 2018


People often say that music can be like therapy; ...that just the experience of listening to a piece of music can make you feel better. Typically it's a pop song, something with immediate effervescence.... ...But it's something else when a song, or even a musical phrase or motif, can provide you with something deeper, namely: illumination; to where it feels like the song and its singer is giving you something, bestowing that healing to you in a sonic 5-minute ceremony that's exceedingly more intimate than any catharsis you might just rake from a regular radio song. 

Santiparro is a singer/songwriter who spent much of his creative life here in Metro Detroit, but departed about 8 years ago to begin what seems, by intention, to be an endless odyssey. It's a journey I can only come to understand more fully by what's imparted in his lyrics, cast across holy-sounding melodies and ethereal incantations in a voice that sounds like it came from the ground, from the wind, from a cave, from a cloud.... And it becomes apparent through the songs of his forthcoming album, Talon, that that journey was more than just going out to spend time living beyond the borders of Michigan or the United States, but a deeper, metaphysical journey, to the depths of the soul, and back again. 

Why am I getting this heavy about a piece of music before even describing it? I think you can intuit its extensively cosmic substance from streaming the lead single of Santiparro's Talon, below...

A kaleidoscope of styles and sounds congeal on every song, each with a fluid and adventurous arrangement; imagine Pet Sounds in the 80's fuzzy peak of shoegaze, or "Boxer"-era Simon & Garfunkel if they were produced by late 90's David Fridmann... Whereas Santiparro (aka Alan Scheurmann)'s previous albums, such as 2015's True Prayer, cultivated a progressive and elemental sounding folk, or future-folk aesthetic, Talon finds Santiparro entering danceable realms of rhythmic revelry, augmented by greater inclusion of synthesizers and sequenced beats. More than that, as emoted on the lyrics, the singer himself seems to be filled with a fresh distillation of energies - to where you can see this human as he sings to you, easily imagined with his eyes closed, something close to ecstasy or if not that just in the midst of a heightened empathic link to not just you and me and his own self, but, ambitiously, to other dimensions.   

Santiparro's main collaborator on this venture is Kansas City-based producer J. Ashley Miller. And  I came to these conclusions about the intentions and themes of the album before I even zeroed in on the actual content of the lyrics. It's like I received the signals of this emotional content by what they captured and honed on the recording-itself, the performance of Scheurmann, the tones he reaches with his voice and the grainy gorgeous quality of his acoustic guitar over the majestic pianos. That's latticed beautifully over Miller's mix of the organic and the synthetic sounds, as well as co-navigating a way for Scheurmann to make a stylistic shift and come off sounding like a natural transition--wings spread from a former chrysalis. And each song builds, swells, blossoms...they might start out small, quiet, ambient, but they build and grow and add and combine, voices, guitars, pianos and just the right amount of reverb, delay and distortion.... It gives one pause. It gives one quite a lot, in fact, if you listen closely enough.

And the way in which these songs build, you can sense that Miller and Scheurmann were truly on a journey together, working out the recording at the Infoaming Vertex in KC. Whereas True Prayer featured cameos from artists like Bonnie "Prince" Billy and Kyp Malone, the only artists here are Scheurmann and Miller, and a few vocal cameos from Scheurmann's wife, Indy Genao. And while I can quote so many lyrics from this record for their profundity and wisdom, I think I'll go with a song you'll be able to hear, once it's released on August 3rd, which is titled "Ani Tana..."  " can get there // you already are..."

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Talon comes out August 3rd 

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Dr. Wolf

Dr. Wolf is a Detroit-based duo with two new singles that sound nothing alike, and that's the intent. Henry Johns (vocals/guitar/drums) and Nick Sapounas (vocals/synth/drums) have been friends (and musical collaborators) for a long time, and together they've been fusing their imaginative approaches to arrangements and coiling the spectrum of limiting genres like a twizzler, in hopes of snapping it back into a broader wavelength. Both musicians come from equitably adventurous bands like gray/bliss and Warehouse. These two tunes are sort of a preview of more to come from Dr. Wolf in the year ahead, and I'm excited to premiere them.

"Came So Easy" is a guitar-centrc glide and shimmy, drawing in new wave Johnny Marr-ish staccato style and syrupy reverb spilled over the dream-pop crooning vocals. Wavy and wobbly psychedelic effects furl around the solo bridging the second and third choruses, but the spacey weirdness pares back for those crispy surfy tones to come in and carry you through. The drums are snappy and mighty enough to accommodate what you'd expect to be a "rock song," but they're mixed measuredly into the recording so as not to overpower anything else--a fine balance. But then those spacey guitars come back in, a new pedal creating a shimmering sheen over the tones as we fly out of orbit...

And then "Acceptance" gently slides into slow-motion. The beats evoke a heart-beat, the drones feel like deep breathes, a modulated tone curves and purrs and then the ethereal vocals waft around you like a stray ribbon in a chill breeze. You lock in to the beat and you can almost feel the tension being extracted from your muscles, from your aura even. It's a slow, slllooowww rock, a sweet and meditative sway. The guitars pare back for accentuations at the corners of each measure while the beat, the winding whirr of the synths and those stretchy vocal notes repose resplendently from one beat to the next. They're giving you 6 minutes a piece with each of these tracks, and "Acceptance," just like "Came So Easy," grows into so many different motifs and allows for myriad mesmerizing sounds to manifest...

Put some headphones on.... Dr. Wolf want to expand the avenues of sound and expression...and maybe along the way they can expand your mind, too.

More Info

Dr. Wolf's Next show

Dr. Wolf's bandcamp

Friday, June 22, 2018

saajtak's new EP: 'Hectic' (June 28)

Hectic is a beautiful word to start to describe saajtak. Or, rather, the Detroit-based band find a way to make "hectic" sound beautiful. That's the title of their new EP, two epic songs spanning 15 entrancing minutes.

Harmony blossoms frequently throughout these extended arrangements, designed to take away the palatable hooks, familiar chord progressions and conventional downbeats and let a detached listener respond or adapt to a song through finding their own balanced cadence.

saajtak - Hectic

Ears acclimated to rock, pop, hip-hop or folk will have no other recourse but to consider their idiosyncratic and unbounded sonic designs to be a sleek outgrowth of something resembling jazz. But rather than trade off expressive solos and pivot instrumental phrasings, each of these four artists flows, or flourishes their musical capacities along uniquely tuneful and dynamic orchestrations--something like a sustained crescendo from four corners. 

Simon Alexander-Adams casts spells on keys/electronics, Alex Koi's vocals soar, Jonathan Taylor provides frenetic percussion and Ben Willis gives the bass a mean but majestic growl. Each finds the updraft to catch and glide the song but uniquely controls their own flaps along the wing of the craft. At least that's where Hectic's got me digging....

The new EP will be out soon. But while you're here, let's listen to one of my favorite songs from last year, off of saajtak's first EP, Spokes...

You're never far from something booming, swooning, bending or flourishing. It's like a groove that keeps getting deeper, or at least allows for multiple levels and otherwise uncharted stylistic trenches.

More info: saajtak

saajtak EP Release
Thurs., June 28
El Club
featuring: Onyx Ashanti // Marcus Elliot // River Spirit // Sad Mandala // DJ Greg Baise
$5 (presale) $10 (at the door)

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Mountain Babies - "Pine Cones & Grindstones" (new video)

Photography by Ryan Nisbett Studios

This ethereal-sounding Americana twang-team from Port Huron are a must-hear. In fact, I wrote about their Existence of Resistance EP in the middle of last summer and expressed how I was drawn to the Mountain Babies' sensibility for manifesting something that can rustles up the soul. It's ambient folk's spacey vibes meets math rock's intricate fretwork; it's country tumblers evoking rural road trips but slathered in post-rock noise experimentation; and its all arranged, recorded, and mixed for optimal balance so as to dazzle your ears and make your head swim...

They demonstrated a capriciousness and a laid back charisma with their playful video for 2016's "Pointe Aux Barques/Dead Man's Walkin" - featuring a psychedelic journey through the woods. Now, with "Pine Cones & Grindstones," they become paper-cut outs on a diorama stage, with impressive edits that literally tear away one layer to reveal campfires, mountains, underwater milieus and a desert oasis, collaging the four players onto each new page and taking them on an adventure--even as they're standing still and playing this tune for you. Then you get to the 95-second mark and they become surfers upon a cresting wave of swelling tones, only to pare back for a minimal denouement that expresses the heart of not just this song, but much of the EP from whence it came....a holding on to hope, even in the face of nuanced darkness. "The sun will be rising....soon."

Mountain Babies' next performance is Saturday, at the annual Porch Fest in Port Austin, MI

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Detroit Songs of 2018 (...So Far)

I know I'm missing at least 20 (or 50) more releases from the first six months of the year. Then again, I am limited to what I could track down on Spotify. But here we are....

...each year, it seems, more and more great new music is coming out from Detroit-area artists. Each year it's more active. Each year, more artists are experimenting and exploring, pushing their own boundaries and producing something that tops their previous output.

I think it has a nice mix when the artists are arbitrarily set in alphabetical order... Or, you could just shuffle-play it...

Indie-rock, hip-hop, neo-soul, R&B, ambient electronica, fuzzy psychedelia, blues, Americana... It's all here, right here around Detroit... Some of these releases came out way back in January, and others were dropped not even two weeks ago... I know it's going to be a busy 5-6 months ahead, but here's a midway point survey of what was spinning on my weekly playlists.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Ohio Wild

Ohio Wild can carry you away, like a tide down the shore at sunset.  The melodies sung and swelled together in harmony by Allison Laakko and Jim Byrne flutter with caprice, keeping to tender volumes and delicate intonation. 

It's a closeness evoking a solitude from the city's clamor, heightened by a gossamer whisper of rhyming secrets incanted through cupped hands inside secluded environs, a country cabin where you're audience to something breathtakingly intimate, or playfully magical... Lullabies that give space for the voices, the rusty, reedy croon of Byrne and the dulcet, woozy serenade of Laakko, to gracefully bend, dip and waltz every note to apply the fullest potential for a melody's vine-like ability to lasso you off into their reveries. 

Ohio Wild's Greatest Hits comes out July 10  See them on Wed., June 20 at PJs Lager House opening for Blac Rabbit MORE INFO
Byrne and Laakko started singing together on a whim, not too long ago. The alchemy was almost instantaneous. A curious eavesdropper down the hall from them entered the room to interrupt their jam session and proclaimed that they weren't just singing; they'd  "...just formed a band...!"

For much of their lives, as individuals, Byrne and Laakko have both been a bit more cosmically attuned than most of us, with preternatural abilities to express themselves in song. But the experience of Greatest Hits does feel (and sound) like two halves finding complimenting harmonies and an overall aesthetic symmetry. And that aesthetic is a pastoral folk that feels detached and tranquil, with some gothic graphite shading the corners of the portrait. It might be telling that they fittingly soundtracked a surreal horror novel's theatrical adaptation, set in the late 19th century wilderness...

It's giving a baroque and dreamlike ribbon's curl to the silklike song strands laid out from a James Taylor or a Joni Mitchell kind of vibe, but adding their own characteristic inflections and melodic blends, always adding distinctive colors to the songs' canvas. Kudos to engineer Jim Diamond, who captured the inherent ability of these songs to seem as though they're enveloping you in this spellbinding fog, never too thick and never evaporating, coaxing you...ever further..., into the next song's uniquely dazzling sphere.

Laakko and Byrne bring Ohio Wild to the stage of PJs Lager House on June 20. 

Friday, June 1, 2018

Kimball's New EP + Interview

photo credit - Rob Dawson - Zion Creative

Emily Barr, Austin McCauley and Brodie Glaza were friends first. They're in a band now, writing and performing songs together, but something special always emerges when the foundation of a composition come back to a friendship. That band is Kimball, and this week they're releasing their debut EP, North Wilson, capped off with a concert at the Loving Touch (INFO). The Doozers, Remnose, and Who Boy will also perform, along with the unveiling of Kimball's debut 7-inch on colored vinyl via Jett Plastic Recordings.

Kimball create an indie-rock that's accentuates melody, balance, and propulsion. The drums build, elevate, soar, the chord progressions and cresting basslines feel like a summer wind at your back, and there's a sense for the cinematic when they go from a calm, pared back valley, to a skyhigh peak where each intonation, be it the honeyed lead vocals, the intertwining acoustic and electric guitars, or even the clasp of cymbals, each get space to blossom and then blend.

And its fitting that this batch of songs evokes a sense of rising.... since that's essentially what instigated the band: a rising to an occasion, of sorts. They actually formed Kimball, officially, after a debut performance at Arts Beats & Eats in 2016. But to get back to the beginning, first: McCauley knew that Barr was a singer and a couple years after they became friends finally made the suggestion that they start writing and recording music together. You can hear a finalized version of their first song, "Guns," streaming above... Glaza brought a live drumming element to replace the sequenced midi beats they'd initially demoed. McCauley said that it gelled, even though they each had distinctive musical tastes and brought unique approaches to the table.

McCauley asked why not? Because another friend from school had asked him to record a few demos for another band to potentially submit to Arts Beats & Eats but it fell through. So why not try recording a live video of "Guns" with Barr and Glaza and submit that? It worked! "I remember getting the call that we got on the line up," said McCauley. "...I freaked out with happiness in public." Soon after that performance, they added bassist Christian Fifelski and Jacob King on electric guitar.

"A lot of our songs sound and style have been inspired by what we were listening to at the time," McCauley said. "So with 'Guns', (Barr) was listening to a lot of the Neighborhood at the time... For the song 'Wildflower,' I was listening to bands like Hippo Campus and Real Estate. Sometimes I look at our changing sound as a positive and negative. There's maturity and comfort in keeping one solid sound and sticking with it, but at the same time that can get stagnant for the artist. We try to create a balance between allowing our creative inspirations influence us, and keeping a constant between the different styles."

McCauley said that they prefer to show the emotion, a suggestion, or an intonation, or a bit of wordplay to unpack, rather than lay something out too bluntly. "I thnk that's where a lot of that texture comes from," Glaza said. "(It's) trying to communicate that emotion in our music..."

The key, then, is channeling that emotion and this energetic playing style to the stage. But another tricky element will be finding a way to properly capture it on a recording... Something I've learned working through this EP," McCauley said, " that a lot of the finished product was because of other people. Yes we wrote the songs and played the instruments, but the EP sounds the way it does mostly because of our engineer/producer."

North Wilson was recorded at Aashrum Studio by Steve Saputo. But McCauley has been writing and recording music for most of his life, starting out on piano; 'Wildlower' was actaully recorded in his basement. Glaza said he also had an overwhelming passion for music, but it really didn't kick in until middle school, when he "fell head over heels in love" with the drums.

They cherished their time in Aashrum Studio, up in the woods of Ortonville, last summer, where they recorded the EP. McCauley says that recording the EP, just like their submission to AB&E, was "somewhat of an impulsive decision." An opportunity to be picked up by a label came around and they decided if the demos they sent in didn't get them picked up that they'd go ahead and record an EP at a studio. "We didn't necessarily write these songs to fit perfectly together, but as we started recording them and hearing them all in the context of an EP, we noticed a common topic of struggle within our home lives..."

Kimball's keen on rising to occasions, clearly. It's all about forward momentum. Having since sutured themselves into the local music scene, they're eager to continue building after this EP, honing the live performance, playing as many shows as possible, linking up with new bands, getting out of town. "Since this EP was recorded about a year ago," said McCauley, "we've already been dreaming up ideas for an album, planning out singles releases, and really focusing in on the technical aspects of our music--live, and in the studio."

EP Release Party
June 8
Loving Touch

Find the band on Spotify