Thursday, February 11, 2016

Earth Engine EP

Five tracks comprise Earth Engine’s debut EP, each one a jarring spiral deeper into unfamiliar, uncharted, and wildly unpredictable territory. One thing you won’t take away from this Detroit group’s record is exactly something you’d expect. And for a self-produced project, this is certainly no small feat. Still, at its heart, this thing is a solid collection of prog rock songs. Kind of.    
The EP takes its time unraveling its layered and cryptic, yet catchy and accessible content, dancing around hooks and bridges that often take a dramatically different shape only seconds later. The opening track (and the album’s most linear), “Remain,” washes over like a heavy tide, coming up as a level and aggressive ballad. Other tracks like “Joy Blue” hammer sporadically through to the end with many sharp turns along the way. It’s never a straight shot -- more like a deliberate detour. The structured chaos is just enough to make sure you won’t walk away.
Something the record gives a lot of attention to: bringing together aesthetic themes via production strategies. For example, you’ll notice a white noise exit in “Fever of Static,” ushering listeners into sustained emptiness. You might hear bells in “Year One” to complement If I ring the bell -- the track’s telling line. And, if you listen very carefully, you might hear a soft drone between “Remain” and “River’s Red” -- i.e., submerged and trying to surface. Still.  
And what’s most impressive is how unusual and singular EE’s sound actually is, while still making you want to dance and sing along -- while still striking right to your core. This, after all, is what music is supposed to do. And so many groups seem to lose sight of that very early on. For the time being, it seems Earth Engine can hold your attention, and more importantly, make that time count.

The EP is worth listening to if only for the experience of hearing a local product you really don’t hear that often -- although you’ll likely find better reasons than that.

Here's the album's single:  

EP Release
Saturday, February 13 
New Dodge Lounge, Hamtramck  
$5/doors at 8:00 pm

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

White Denim (pt.2)

This new year 2016 concludes White Denim’s three-year silence; their seventh studio album Stiff is set to drop March 25. At long last.
Since Corsicana Lemonade, we’ve heard virtually nothing from the group (save for James Petralli’s poppy and all-too-linear Bop English), and so we were forced to speculate. Hiatus? A semi-permanent turn to other projects? It’s likely you thought that would never actually be the case. WD is just too good, too young, and too underrepresented among the masses to disband now.

So far, we have two singles and an absurdly unabashed music video, in which White Denim indeed becomes the-thing-draped-over-your-bare-chest (see below). “Holda You (I’m Psycho)” returns to us the Texas neo-twang and upbeat southern-rock lines we expect (and for which we fell in love with them) -- a warm “hey, we’re back” to settle your anxiety.
“Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah),” their most recent reveal, is simple and soulful with the right amount of funk and lyrical puns to come off smooth. The band prides itself on urging people to “have a good time,” spare no expense, dance like a fucking fool; if anything, the track is Sitff’s good-time ballad. In other words, expect nothing less from the rest of the album.

This release is shaping up to be a record no different from the last three, and I’ll risk sounding naive by saying that this isn’t a bad thing at all. White Denim is the right amount of familiar, original, and interesting coming out of a region flooded with musicians both talented and forgettable. I applaud them, and might always appreciate what they have to offer.

You can find a list of tour dates on their website.

Holda You (I’m Psycho)

Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah)     

Monday, January 25, 2016

Post Pop Depression

“America’s greatest living poet was ogling you all night; you should be wearing the finest gown.”

So declares America’s first and most famous punk poet -- a hoarse and greasy plunge into futility, graceless aging, and despair. If the object of our bard’s gaze is a voyeur's novelty, the great poet can only be the shit just below.

With Iggy Pop’s announcement of a collaboration with QOTSA’s Josh Homme and Dean Fertita, Post Pop Depression is promising to be exactly what one would expect from such a partnership -- filthy and brilliant. The album’s single, Gardenia, is as much about power and disappointment as it is lecherous love. What better backing ensemble than the likes of Homme? The track’s staggered drone not subtly mimics the psycho dream of the protagonist, and Josh’s lofty accompaniment makes it almost playful.

And we were just given the album’s opening track, Break Into Your Heart, effectively swaying us into the intrusive, obsessive, and pleading. Battered and warbling -- just like Iggy. It is so unbelievably appropriate.

These two songs offer a very positive preview of what we can expect. Dirty, lowdown lust; or maybe what happens when the love goes away, and the struggle of getting it back.


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Nigel & the Dropout

Scattered across the vivid, kaleidoscopic tapestry that is the contemporary Detroit music scene, you’ll find groups that fit (however crudely) into the Big Genres: rock, punk, electronic, indie, etc. More often, you’ll encounter groups that really don’t have any clear genre to pair with. And they’re more memorable for that very reason. Nigel & the Dropout is an upfront example of what it means to exist outside of the genre, and why that’s the best thing possible in live music today.

Nigel & the Dropout is a two-piece powerhouse. The ferocity and volume of their music together make up one the most electric and exciting features of their shows. But it doesn’t start that way. Each song has a calculated and melodic build-up, with lights, pop, and the occasional dramatic tempo shift. The force and dynamics of their onstage presence are really impressive — even more impressive is the control they exert over such a massive sound.
Any musician knows how important such techniques are to their craft; Nigel & the Dropout is no exception. They’re able to sustain that constant movement — a guaranteed strategy to keep your music interesting. The music is poppy, electronic, with guitar fuzz and vocal reverb; sometimes speedy, always steady. Driving. It has rapid crescendos and mellow downturns. And there’s constant tradeoff between the two extremes. They’re one of the most multi-dimensional groups I’ve seen in a long time. If Nigel & the Dropout is any indication of the state of music in Detroit in 2016, rejoice, and be proud.

If anything, you really should sit down and listen to them. It’s great hard-hitting, heady electronic music, sure to make you smile. Their latest album, Folderol, along with the rest of their discography, is available on Spotify, Bandcamp, and SoundCloud.

Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie -- Blackstar

The crushing sadness of four generations is contained in the passing of David Bowie. To reiterate his legacy here, it seems, is a task both difficult and unnecessary. It will do just to say his musical and cultural influence is the type natural, lasting, and rare.

Many of us will continue to struggle with the impact of his life and death.

It gladdens me to know he spent the last months of his life producing what some consider his best album in decades. Blackstar takes on obvious new meaning in light of David Bowie’s death -- an album already laden with a potent darkness and shadows of melancholy. Mortality, love, fame, poetry, language, and loneliness all are themes addressed between tracks one and seven. The record’s aesthetics, perhaps cathartically so, come through at times deeply unsettling and unimaginably beautiful, with altogether different readings now assigned to lines like “Look up here, I’m in heaven” since its release only three days ago.

And at the same time, it does not seem like Bowie says goodbye. I think it’s more true to Blackstar and the duration of his career to think of the album as a very real reflection on a life’s work well beyond summary, and as an enduring piece of art itself. It is a magnificent album, from beginning to end.

I have little else to say about a man who changed the world by being part of it.  

Monday, January 4, 2016

Jeff Buckley, or music as true misery

As I sit here reaching for words to accurately relay the profound sadness and emotional turmoil that characterizes Jeff Buckley’s music, I find myself considering more critically the vast and seemingly unanswerable questions of music in general -- that is, often, its effects are equally physiologically, intellectually, and spiritually life-altering, given the right set of circumstances.
You see, what I’ve learned from my recent exploration of Buckley’s tragically short discography is that to be in true emotional pain, and to master the art of recording and projecting that pain, is exceedingly rare. Even in the world of art and creative media. It might be the case that such readings are subjective and only individually significant. But maybe, occasionally, these individually manifested interpretations can transcend the thing itself, becoming in some sense universal, and indescribable. I’m almost certain this is so with Jeff Buckley.

Critics of the early ‘90s swooned over his unique and versatile singing style -- sharp and sustained vibrato, much like his father Tim, though with a vocal range surpassing that. I myself see this fact, along with an unorthodox verse/chorus interplay, and subtly complex poetic performance embedded in the lyrical structure of every song, as the biggest reasons why Buckley is the most unusual, and perhaps musically enigmatic, artist to come out of the 1990s. In the face of grunge, Buckley offers something more tender, soft-spoken, and articulate -- all with the same degree of contempt and heartache elicited by a society and culture that failed its angsty and romantic youth.

To put it bluntly, Jeff Buckley’s music is some of the most effectively depressing and terrifyingly dead-on I’ve ever heard -- and so quick, without explanation. His sudden death by drowning in ‘97 is almost as mysterious as his only album, Grace. It’s dark, poignant, dismal, and beautiful -- it will leave you a wreck. Proceed with caution.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Why I Saw The Rolling Stones on their Zip Code Tour (2015)

The Rolling Stones played Comerica Park in Detroit last Wednesday for the first time in 10 years. There's no denying the gravity of that fact. For some, that was reason enough to attend. For others, like me, it needed to be something. It needed to be a show worth seeing.       

In all fairness, I will concede that there is seemingly no good reason to see The Rolling Stones live in 2015. Or so I thought, until about a month ago.
See, I'm a big, big fan. As a throwback Millennial, I understand and honor the legacy — and perhaps most importantly, the historical significance — of a band like The Stones. I grew up with the catalog hits. All of them. From "Gimme Shelter" to "Wild Horses," I was conditioned with a solid awareness that The Rolling Stones were "a great band." And, while I acknowledge the awesome and overwhelming power of their position in modern music, I cannot accept this as a good enough reason to see them perform.
But something about The Stones changed for me, and at just the right time. Suddenly, they were no longer "the band that plays Sympathy for the Devil," or "Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and others." They became for me what they've always been for the rest of you: The Rolling Stones, creators of an iconic and game-changing style of writing and performance. They became the artists behind "Torn and Frayed," "Salt of the Earth," "Monkey Man," "Ventilator Blues." In other words, I finally got it. So, we picked up some last-minute tickets, and off we went.

As a great, big rock 'n' roll band still active 50 years from their debut, The Stones run the risk of becoming musty dusty museum relics, fit for nothing more than bragging rights. "Yeah, I saw The Rolling Stones before they all died." Aging is inevitable. Aging with dignity, in their world, is a choice. Sadly, as we all know, some monumental acts refuse to let go (The Who, anybody?). And so we witness the long and ugly death knell of The Decline.
I'm happy (and quite relieved) to say that, with The Stones, this is not yet the case. If you were at Comerica on Wednesday, you saw something raw, mysterious, and emotional. An ancient power, blasting through its likewise ancient arsenal with ferocity and verve. It was, in a way, a shocking event. It was exhibitionism if ever I saw it — a perfect complement to their gallery exhibition set to appear in London in April of 2016. Swan song or not, it was a fantastic show, and a loud-and-clear reminder that The Rolling Stones are alive and well and better than ever, and will not go gentle, etc., etc.

I enjoyed the concert, and I'm glad I went. It wasn't a chance to see The Rolling Stones before they burn out; it was a chance to see a seasoned group of musicians who know exactly what the hell they're doing. And they do it well.

I'll end with a quick top 10 of my favorites. Enjoy!
1. Torn and Frayed
2. Gimme Shelter
3. Sweet Virginia
4. Loving Cup
5. 2000 Light Years from Home
6. Stray Cat Blues
7. Soul Survivor
8. Street Fighting Man
9. Miss You
10. Salt of the Earth