Prussia : Mittenfest Artist Highlight

2011 December 31st

photos by Cameron Tarnas
videos by Steven Michael Holmes

Prussia has it down on so many levels. We just love telling you about how much we love Prussia, probably because everything they’ve done is pretty damn awesome. Putting out unique, interesting content at a constant pace with an engaging and entertaining live show, they’re bound to keep climbing the ladder.

With the unfortunately increasing negative and self-involved disposition that bands, and especially bands who start getting noticed by bigger press, seem to be putting off, the guys in Prussia are refreshingly down to earth and fun guys. Maybe I have just seen some bad live shows lately, but it’s great to see a band who unwaveringly makes an effort on stage to thank everyone involved with the show, engage their audience, and not spit on stage. Or maybe it’s just more sad that other bands have been straying away from politeness, Prussia keeping it together is a glimmer of hope.

And they’re all so talented at so many things! Trading instruments throughout the set, switching instruments during songs, sick harmonies coming at you left and right, and a perfectly found balance between all their difference voicings and dynamics. Spencer’s voice seemed to be a little gruff at Mittenfest, and I can see why, but it didn’t take away anything from their sound.

If you’ve seen Prussia live you already know that their show is great. You probably also know that you can’t get enough of it, so watch these videos.

If you haven’t seen Prussia, watch these videos. There’s a 90% chance you’ll love it. We did the math.

Mittenfest Photo Highlights pt. 2

2011 December 31st

August’s Albums/Songs/Books of the Year

2011 December 30th

Can we all agree that 2011 kicked ass for local music? Just roll through our articles on the bottom of the right-side toolbar to see some of the incredibly cool things we covered throughout the year. Choosing my favorite albums of 2011 was incredibly difficult, but below are my best approximations. I can almost guarantee that I’m forgetting so many great releases and I’ll be bounding back to this article within a few days to add more works that need recognition. Barring that, here are my favorite releases of 2011 (and don’t forget to read Steven’s favorite releases).

Favorite Albums (in no particular order)

Prussia- Poor English
Prussia’s Poor English was released in three parts over the span of three autumn months, which could be one reason why the album dominated a large portion of my music listening over the past half a year. But that reasoning might belie the true excellence of this album. I’ve already said a lot about it on this blog, but I still can’t seem to shut up about it, so just go listen to it already, why don’t you?

Chris Bathgate- Salt Year
With this album, Chris Bathgate concentrated his distinctive sound into chronicling the woes and emotions of a single year, and his songwriting benefitted from the thematic focus. I had the pleasure of seeing Chris Bathgate live a bunch of times this year, and each show improved upon the last in some way. With Bathgate also releasing the Onerio EP, completing his extensive Kickstarter, playing on NPR and Daytrotter (among other blogs and events), and touring all over the US, 2011 was a big year for Bathgate. I can’t wait to see what he does in 2012.

Frontier Ruckus- Way Upstate and the Crippled Summer, pt. 2
Frontier Ruckus supplemented their first album with this EP released this year. The horns, the harmonies, the country twang of each song- this EP is pure sunshine, endlessly replayable even in the dead of winter (when us Michiganders need sunshine most).

This album has been stuck in my brain since August, and I haven’t had a chance to post about it until now. Since 2009, Detroit producer Coyote Clean-Up has been dropping albums and mixtapes that skillfully recall the neon-glow nostalgia and lava lamps of the 90s, sexified and twisted with fragmented voice samples and a plethora of weird sounds. Trip-hop, chillwave, lounge jams? I don’t know what to call it, but it’s catchy, sexy, and relaxing all at the same time.

Man Man- Life Fantastic
Thought I would give a non-Midwestern album a spot on my list, as Man Man’s latest conquered my car stereos in 2011. The Philadelphia experimental band take equal cues from Zappa and Gogol Bordello, and listening to them makes you feel like you’re getting the shit kicked out of you at a carnival. This album tunes down their past cartoonish-wackiness while maintaining their weird blend of styles and instruments. If you’ve heard of Man Man but haven’t delved into their discography yet, this might be the place to start.

Favorite Songs

Below are some of my favorite songs that weren’t included in the above albums. Mix CD fodder? Under-appreciated singles of brilliance? You be the judge.

Zoos of Berlin- “Haven’t Eyes”

Detroit art-rockers Zoos of Berlin released a fantastic EP, and this track epitomizes what they’re all about. Listen to it at their bandcamp here.

Gitis Baggs- “The Gitis Baggs Game”

The title track from Gitis Baggs album is a weird whirlwind of elements that shouldn’t work together, but somehow do. You can listen to the song on our Double Phelix Double Feature article here!

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.- “Morning Thought”

Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr’s debut album was great, but this track distills everything I love about them into one song: insidiously catchy melody, tight harmonies, interesting electronic textures, and a pop music sensibility that makes you want to share this song with people you don’t even know.

Lasso- “Creep St.”

Lasso’s ragtime instrumental works hard to pull you into the atmospheric realm of Lasso, and it succeeds at being one of the best songs off Lasso’d. I frequently find myself humming that damn bouncy melody. Get it stuck in your head, too.

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Favorite Books

I never get a chance to talk about my favorite books, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to share three of my favorite publications from this year. I’d like to turn this into a regular occurrence on Mostly Midwest, but only if our readers are interested, so let me know if you’d like to see more!

I Am A Very Productive Entrepreneur by Mathias Svalina

Published by the up-and-coming independent publisher Mud Luscious Press, this book is one of my favorite things I have read this year. I don’t know whether to call it fiction, or poetry, or prose poetry (and Mud Luscious would revel in this confusion; they love to publish work that blurs the boundaries between verse and prose, fiction and poetry), but this creative, weird little book touts itself as a novella. Each piece opens with the line “I started this one business” and goes on to describe an abstract and metaphysical company, constructed by Svalina’s silly and sardonic prose. Example:

I started this one business that sold parts of me to the highest bidders. The obvious items went first: Kidneys, lungs, heart, skin. But the business was more profitable once the tangibles were gone. I sold my name for $50,000 after everything but my appendix & tonsils had been purchased. I sold the good side of my personality for $130,000. I sold my lack of faith to a young boy who’d been locked up by his religiously devoted father [...]

Intrigued? It’s worth the purchase. It’s one of those books that you like to show people so you can watch their face and their reaction as they get a grip on one of the poems. You can pick it up here as well as a bunch of other great books.

This Is Not Your City by Caitlin Horrocks

I purchased this short story collection because the author, Grand Rapids’ Caitlin Horrocks, was going to be doing a reading at the Michigan News Agency in Kalamazoo. Unfortunately, due to class conflicts, I couldn’t attend the reading, but the purchase was not for naught. This Is Not Your City, published by Sarabande Books, contains eleven literary-fiction stories that get under your skin, sometimes in uncomfortable ways. The characters are all fighting against their life situations, often taking self-destructive or willfully malicious actions for reasons the reader can’t quite come to grips with. Horrocks’ prose is the stuff of a professional: darkly comical but shimmering with beautiful phrases and a controlled sense of storytelling. I left my copy in Kalamazoo and am currently in Iron Mountain, so this short review will have to go without an excpert, but if it at all helps, I still remember the opening line to the story “Zolaria”: “It is July and we are a miraculous age.”

Use those Christmas Amazon giftcards for some literature and order it here.

How the Days of Love and Diphtheria by Robert Kloss

I won a signed copy of this chapbook off a Facebook contest (tip: “like” Mud Luscious Press on Facebook if only for their free book giveaways), but I can not recommend it enough and would drop ten dollars for a copy in a heartbeat. Published by Mud Luscious’s Nephew imprint, How the Days of Love and Diphtheria also dances the border between fiction and poetry. In an interview, Kloss talked about how freeing it is for him to not choose between fiction and poetry, how he realized he can just write the way he wants to write without those distinctions. This book exemplifies that. There is a narrative arc to the whole thing (I think), but the dense paragraphs that build this arc are full of poetic obfuscations and jarring, violent, apocalyptic imagery. Without trying to spoil much, here is a bit of the opening paragraph:

Few stories as old as the story of the boy whose family you killed. What authors of ruin, you with your black masks, your knives. Few stories so sorrowful as mother and father and how you left them strewn, cut apart and opened, how the birds and barn cats crawled within and slept, how they seemed under the wide light of the house you set ablaze. How your horses thundered the hillsides, clouds of dust and soot, the long green grasses gone black in your wake.

This is writing that keeps you up at night. And a reader has to respect that, I think. Order the book here. And don’t forget that Kloss’s debut novel is going to be published by Mud Luscious in 2012!

What to look forward to in 2012…

New Chris Bathgate EP! Stepdad’s debut album! New Graham Parsons solo album! Phantasmagoria’s debut album! Pat Carroll’s new album! Pioneer Parade album maybe? I don’t know! Do you have something you’re looking forward to? Post a comment. And have an excellent new year!

Steven’s Favorite Albums of 2011

2011 December 29th

I spend a lot of time in my van. By the time I’m back in Houghton next week, I’ll have driven over 7,000 miles since moving to Kalamazoo in August. Whoa. That’s 7,000 miles of listening to my favorite albums. Top lists are weird, I never know what criteria to use for formulating them, so this year I decided to base my top, or favorite, albums by how often I listened to them in my van. Check out the results, and check here for August’s top albums, songs, and books of 2011.

Timber Timbre – Creep On Creepin’ On

My top favorite album of 2011 is entirely not Midwestern at all. It’s not even from the United States.

Timber Timbre, a canadian dark-folk trio helmed by Taylor Kirk, has been a favorite of mine for years now after discovering them the same day I discovered Slowcoustic (yeah, it was a great day.) Their albums have progressed from creaky barnhouse recordings to a full, luscious studio masterpiece with this years release, “Creep on Creepin’ on”. Unfortunately, a YouTube comment by cheriesaysdrop seemed to put it best, “No one’s ready for this band yet, I can tell. Either that, or they’re completely frightened.” Best listened to when driving on bright sunny days, unless you want to drive yourself mad and depressed.

Fiona Dickinson – Duende

Fiona Dickinson is the first musician to bring me to tears. “Duende” has made me want to curl up and hide under my covers for the rest of the day, it has horrified me as I sat home alone and heard my front door open but no one was there, and it’s been in my van for so long that I may have physical withdrawals if it ever finds its way out. Above everything else, “Duende” fills you with the warmth of strength and hope, and makes you ready to take on your hardships face to face.

Chris Bathgate – Oneiro

This year saw two release’s from Chris Bathgate with his triumphant “Salt Year” and subsequent self-released EP “Oneiro”. “Salt Year” had a good run in the old van, and even was my go-to album for 2a.m. summer bike rides along the portage in Houghton, but the songs on “Oneiro” seemed to hit home with me a little harder. Six raw, honest, and thought-provoking songs make “Oneiro” my favorite Bathgate release this year. Getting your hands on one of these might be tough, as they were only made available to Kickstarter donations and at select shows, but I strongly suggest making an effort to find one if you can.

The Go Rounds – (2011)

Every song the Go Rounds play, the next one is better. It’s incredible. Every performance I’ve seen of them has subsequently been the best performance I’ve ever seen of them, and this goes hand in hand with their releases, too. Somehow the band managed to take every drop of the energy they exhibit live and harvest it into their most recent release, referred to simply as “2011″. They effectively killed it, and everybody’s dancing stamina, at every music festival I went to this summer. If they keep on the trajectory they’re going, this summer’s Go Rounds sets are going to be a wild ride, one that I would suggest you come prepared for with a large bottle of water, a brand new pair of dancing shoes, and your favorite companion. The Go Rounds will make you dance in your car, at the venue, on the table, and in your brain.

Prussia – Poor English

The soundtrack to my stay in Kalamazoo – whether it was me, August, or one of my other housemates John or Michael, just about every day, guaranteed, at least one song off this album was blaring full volume in our house. Gotta do the dishes? Crank up “Poor English”. My housemate John and I, upon discovering our friend had never heard the album, put it on, sat down, and didn’t say a word while we listened through the entire thing at 3 in the morning. An album that makes you want everyone in the room to shut up and listen to it. On top of all that, it’s free!

Lasso – Lasso’d

Recently reviewed by August, the second release this year from Lasso, “Lasso’d” showed an incredible amount of maturity in the Lasso sound since the first release. A sweltering glimpse into the dry, arid old western america, “Lasso’d” is a brilliant work from Double Phelix mastermind Andy Catlin with a drove of incredible Kalamazoo musicians lending their talents to the album. And hey, this one is free, too!

the Soil & the Sun – Wake Up, Child

I’ve heard it and said it myself enough times to believe it as fact, the Soil & the Sun are the best band in Michigan right now. Mystifying and entrancing all audience members at every live show I’ve seen of them, tS&tS are making people talk. Their debut release “Wake Up, Child” sounds full, real, and refreshingly new. Keep your ear out in 2012, because my money is on them.

Goddard – Bishop

Another non-Midwestern group, Goddard from Worcester, MA may not live in Michigan, but two of the three members call it home. Their debut release “Bishop” is a great indie/math rock album that hits all the points – easy to listen to in one sitting (34 minutes), intriguing, well engineered, and all-around pretty badass. These three know what they want to do, know how to do it, and are making it happen. Get the disc, love the songs, love the artwork, love the people.

Mittenfest 2011 – Night 1 Photo Highlights

2011 December 29th

Mittenfest. whoa.

We made it through night one, and we’ve got four more nights of amazing music to go. Last nights highlight for me was FAWN, at least for the bands I’ve never seen before. Unfortunately I don’t have a strong enough internet connection to get any videos up yet, but we’ll try and have one or two up per day starting tomorrow. In the mean time,

View hi-res photos here.

Mostly Mittenfest 2011 – 21 free songs!

2011 December 28th

Mittenfest is upon us! 4pm today and I’ll be down at Woodruff’s watching sweet bands, and it’s exactly where you should be too. To help give you some convincing, we’ve compiled all the free tracks we’ve uploaded and all the sessions files from Mittenfest bands playing this year. 21 songs – download em, love em, come to Mittenfest. Starts at 4pm tonight and the following four nights, $10/night, loads of great music. Learn more here.

Artists included -

Gifts or Creatures
Chris Bathgate
Matt Jones
Misty Lyn
Red Tail Ring
The Bell Beat
White Pines
Skeleton Birds
The Juliets


“Lasso’d” by Lasso, album review

2011 December 22nd

by August Smith

Somewhere between a spaghetti western gunfight and a cowboy’s campfire nightmare lies the sounds of Lasso, bandit outlaw with kerosene blood, a card-shark murderer, a cocksure saloon-drinker, smart as the whip he cracks at high noon. Lasso’s second release is full of songs that echo and recall explosive train robberies, yellowed “Wanted Dead or Alive” post office posters, sasparilla from a barrel, and war-painted Indian raids- things we’ve only experienced through media and imagination. But these songs and sounds are perverted through Andy Catlin’s ear for aural experimentation, and Lasso’d is the result.

What I’m trying to say here is that this album sounds like a peyote-fueled romp through the mystical Wild West. Like Lasso’s previous release (reviewed here), many of the songs on Lasso’d are constructed from layers of loops. “Better Than Oasis” is built from a rolling piano riff, guitar chords chugging in the distance, with indiscernible clicks and handclaps pulling it together. The vocals, horns, and twinkling mandolins wrap around this loop as it gets thrown and altered through the song, and the whole thing, though eerie and calloused, is surprisingly catchy. “Obsessive Mutations” follows a similar structure- summery strings and tranquil vocals drift overtop a massive, stomping bass line, the loops adjusting to fit the strained and reedy voices. Lasso’d has some more traditionally structured songs, too. “Sandy Boone” is an organ-laden ballad, genuinely pretty at many moments, and “Creep St.” (personal favorite) bounces on ragtime piano and guitar for three endlessly-replayable minutes. Notably, all of the songs conjure up a sense of heat, of sweltering desert, like in the slow, untangling crawl of “The Drain of Time”.

Besides the general sound and aesthetic, Lasso’d invokes Americana nostalgia through its production. The whole album is bathed in a warm lo-fi fuzz, with the layers, voices, and loops hitting your ears with the sound of an old blown-out radio. Threaded through many of the songs are hazy voice samples from who-knows-what, ranging from something like Carl Sagan talking about dark matter to the agonized screams of a gut-shot bootlegger. Lasso’d‘s traditional-mimicking songs paired with the cut-up voice fragments make the album feel like an exploration of memory: twisted, fading, manic, and disjointed.

If your interest is piqued, you can stream the album over here, and download it for pay-what-you-want. Below, stream two of the album highlights, “Creep St.” and “The Drain of Time”. Escape to the west and let Lasso’d warm up these approaching winter days.

Breathe Owl Breathe announce Michigan tour

2011 November 20th

One of our favorite Michigan groups has announced their Michigan tour with Little Wings, and a tour west with Laura Gibson. We’re pretty excited about this – especially to see the two Upper Peninsula dates in there! We’ve got our fingers crossed to schedule a video session when they’re hear in Kalamazoo, so possibly look forward to that. In the meantime, you should check out the new Children’s Book they made.

They made all of it! The book itself, the story, and even songs to go with it. Listen to The Listeners below, download it if you like, then head over and grab a copy of “The Listeners/These Train Tracks” here.

Fri. Nov. 25 – Grand Rapids, MI @ DAAC *
Sat. Nov. 26 – Grand Rapids, MI @ Wealthy Theater – 3pm
Sat. Nov. 26 – Grand Rapids, MI @ DAAC – 8pm *
Tue. Nov. 29 – Evanston, IL @ SPACE *
Wed. Nov. 30 – Ann Arbor, MI @ Arbor Vitae *
Thu. Dec. 1 – Kalamazoo, MI @ The Strutt *
Fri. Dec. 2 – Ypsilanti, MI @ Dreamland Theater *
Sat. Dec. 3 – Detroit, MI @ ‘Noel Night’ at The Scarab Club *
Sun. Dec. 4 – Brethren, MI @ Spirit Of The Woods Conservation Clubhouse *
Tue. Dec. 6 – Marquette, MI @ Up Front & Co. *
Wed. Dec. 7 – Hancock, MI @ Orpheum Theater *
Fri. Dec. 9 – Traverse City, MI @ Higher Grounds Roasting Room*
Sat. Dec. 10 – Petoskey, MI @ North Woods Studio *
Sun. Dec. 11 – Bellaire, MI @ Shorts Brewing Co. *
Fri. Feb. 3 – Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios #
Mon. Feb. 6 – San Francisco, CA @ Bottom Of The Hill #
Wed. Feb. 8 – Los Angeles, CA @ Echo #
Thu. Feb. 9 – Pioneertown, CA @ Pappy & Harriets #
Fri. Feb. 10 – Tucson, AZ @ Plush #
Tue. Feb. 14 – Denton, TX @ Dan’s Silverleaf #
Wed. Feb. 15 – Norman, OK @ Opolis #
Thu. Feb. 16 – Albuquerque, NM @ Low Spirits #
Fri. Feb. 17 – Denver, CO @ High Dive #
Sat. Feb. 18 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court #
Sun. Feb. 19 – Boise, ID @ Neurolux #

* w/ Little Wings
# w/ Laura Gibson

Matt Jones, Front Seat Films

2011 November 13th

Matt Jones was the first “local” musician I ever listened to. Somewhere back in high school getting a burned CD of his E.P. “Right to Arms” from one of my friends introduced me to the beautiful folk scene the midwest had hidden in it’s sleeves. Since then I’ve never turned back, as I’m sure you can all tell. With more Matt Jones shows under my belt than any other performer (often driving to Marquette and back to Houghton to catch him twice in one weekend), his music continues to grow on me. Watch him play two of my favorites, “Dawnland” and “The Games We Used To Play”.

The Juliets’ “Perfect Season”

2011 November 13th

By August Smith

I first discovered The Juliets while boredly browsing releases tagged “Detroit” on bandcamp. It was one of those instances where first an album cover caught my eye, then the album’s opening song snared me, and soon I was continually selecting ‘repeat’  on the whole album. The five-piece (consisting of Jeremy Freer, Sarah Myers, Kaylan Mitchell, Ashton Hopkins, and Jax Phillips) aptly describes their sound as “baroque with backbone”. Fittingly, their self-titled first album was full of hooky indie-pop, ornamented with cello, violin, and the occasional horn section, with Jeremy Freer’s soft voice and nostalgic lyrics bounding back and forth with some very tight backing vocals.

The band just put out their second album, Perfect Season, and it’s a great progression for them- a bit more rock-oriented than their first album, but still maintaining what made the self-titled release so good. Songs like “Loon” exhibit their indelible ear for catchy melody, while songs like “Fashion” or “G.W.N.L.” reveal a heavier side- the side with backbone- that juxtaposes well with all of the elegant string-laden sections on Perfect Season. The band can make some really beautiful pieces, too, like on closer “You Found Me Out”, which pairs a simple bouncing piano with long pulls of a cello’s bow and Freer’s tightly-controlled falsetto.

If you’re looking for some catchy, well-crafted pop-rock, you can pick up Perfect Season for pay-what-you-want on their bandcamp. And below, stream the opening track “Loon” for a taste of what The Juliets do so well.

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