Great Performances, (Pt. 1?)

2011 August 25th

Maybe I’m just looking for an excuse to post these videos and string them together, or maybe we’re starting a new mini-series of articles. Either way, when going to see a show people expect to see more than someone standing on stage playing an instrument. We expect to see a performance. Often have I seen extremely talented musicians stand on stage and lifelessly play away, only to leave the show feeling slighted. It’s not that you have to jump across the stage, or whip flaming drumsticks into the air, but it’s how the performer makes you feel. So, what I have for you is (the first installation of?) three videos of performances that made me look up from the camera and go “whoa.”

A real oldie here (/s). Keweenawesomefest 2010 brought a good handful of great bands all the way to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but John the Savage definitely grabbed the crowd by the collar and got them moving. I don’t remember the name of this particular track, but throughout their entire live performance (or at least the two I’ve seen) this type of energy and charisma is shown. In fact, Keweenaw dwellers and nearby can rejoice, because JTS is playing at Michigan Tech on Friday, Aug 25th in the MUB at 9pm – and it’s free. More about that here.

Esther Rose took center stage when the LWK trio performed this version of an old folk song “Little Black Moustache”, and (as you can hear) the 2011 Farm Block crowd went wild. I’ve personally watched this video at least fifty times. Hell, you know what I hear resonating throughout the halls of my home as I type this article? Mostly Midwest writer August’s voice shouting “AT FORTY-FIVE YEARS OLD”.

I’ve been waiting years for this. No, really. Michael played this song, “Gamble/Drink All My Money”, at Keweenawesomefest 2009 and I wasn’t too into recording things then, so I didn’t capture it. After that, every time I saw Michael was when Red Tail Ring was playing (which is never a bad thing). You can imagine my excitement when I realized I was about to see a supergroup of musicians play this track. Not only that, but Graham prompts Michael to do one of his favorite things, “Bad Impressions with Michael Beauchamp.” So good.

So there you have it. Three great performances from a bunch of great musicians. Tell us about your favorite performance!

Skeleton Birds – The Silver Age

2011 August 24th

Here I find myself, months after receiving the album, sitting in The Strutt listening to “The Silver Age” by Skeleton Birds. A carefully and skillfully crafted piece of art, this album has been keeping me company since it came in the mail. If the band progresses forward like they have since their first release “The Owl”, then they have aptly named their album.

What have my friends had to say every time I start the van with this album in my CD player?

“Did Radiohead come out with a new album?”

“What Radiohead album is this?”

“These guys sound like Radiohead!”

Truth, but not always. “The Silver Age” may sound like a Radiohead album after a brief listen, but it definitely possesses its own sound and atmosphere that keeps it from being any sort of ripoff. Skeleton Birds have put out an album I’d expect not to discover in my inbox, but on Paste or Stereogum. Personally, I can’t stop listening.

Take a listen to, and download for free, one of my favorite tracks off the album “Curses” and decide for yourself.

The Go Rounds live at Founders

2011 August 22nd

My two favorite new songs from The Go Rounds, right here, rocked out live at Founder’s Brewery. “The Rain Boogie”, not on any of their albums yet, and “Questions for the Queen”, which you can get from their studio album here.

Daytrotter’s Barnstormer 5

2011 August 19th

The fifth installment of Daytrotter’s Barnstormer concert series is coming up and promises to bring all sorts of good cheer to the Midwest and beyond. For the unfamiliar, Daytrotter is a slick music site that frequently swallows up hours of my time; interesting up-and-coming acts from all over the States flock to Rock Island, IL to record a session, which in turn gets posted (for free!) on the site at the rate of one band a day. They have done sessions with a few of our favorite bands (The Go Rounds, Chris Bathgate, Prussia, Cains & Abels, etc), and this concert series is definitely something worth supporting.

Below, check out the dates and locations of the upcoming shows. We will be showing our faces at the Dexter, MI show, so if you end up going to that one, come by and say hello!

8/26 – Runnymeade Farm Barn (North Hampton, NH)

8/27 – Brooklyn Bowl (Brooklyn, NY)

8/28 – Old Lantern Barn (Charlotte, VT)

8/29 – The Living Room (New York, NY)

8/30 – Chaseland Barn (New Wilmington, PA)

8/31 – Conrad Botzum Farmstead Barn (Akron, OH)

9/1 – Lakeview Farms Barn (Dexter, MI)

9/2 – Kalyx Center Barn (Monticello, IL)

9/3 – Codfish Hollow Barn (Maquoketa, IA)

Also below, watch a video for the song “Percussion Gun” from one of the bigger bands touring with this series- Brooklyn-based White Rabbits:

Stilly Amidst the Pane, Knoll and Shore guest review

2011 August 19th

Article by Ben Sromalski

Kevin McKay has been around the Ann Arbor scene for quite a while now, early on under the name Umbrella Cloud before changing it to Compartment. Kevin has always had a well-established sound, that being obscurely ambient and intriguingly beautiful. Add in Alex Drosen and a duo was created. Since that inception, they have been quietly playing local venues and house shows in the Ann Arbor area and I’ve been salivating over every live recording I can get a hold of. Finally they have recordings.

Compartment has a truly unspoiled sound they can call their own. The song structures float and transition effortlessly, gliding on a graceful and yet nimble blend of keyboard and vocals. This has been a consistent comforting trademark of Kevin’s songwriting. Alex adds subtle contrast with noise and other elements. If their music could be compared to a film production, Kevin is the director and creator of the story (the base) and Alex is the production design. He provides the mise-en-scène or the fine detail that makes it all real for us. It’s that fine detail that heightens the experience, manipulates reality, and places us in the music. The elements are not just there to be interesting; it’s all orchestrated and purposely placed.

Stilly Amidst the Pane, Knoll, and Shore” is a three song EP, all of which were live recorded. Knoll has a beginning which sets you comfortably in a mood of encirclement. Keyboard advances you into a waltz as the percussion hits and elements of noise fittingly contradict and ease under everything. Shore is probably the EP’s most accessible track with its gentle nature and a chorus that pairs Kevin’s vocals perfectly with use of a slide guitar. It is all too easy to relax and get lost in; ideal for a quiet afternoon at home or a lone drive at night.

I will be the first to admit it isn’t for everyone but Compartment is a full experience and worth a listen from anyone regardless of music taste. Someone described them as the “new folk” which is an odd statement but it holds some truth. It is best for a listener with a mellow pallet, who can appreciate the high degree of care put into it. Their EP can be found on their Bandcamp, and keep a look out for shows in your area and you will be able to catch some of their new songs.

Click here for their Bandcamp
Click here for their Facebook

Farm Block Session : Chris Bathgate

2011 August 18th

We’ve got a lot of Farm Block footage still coming your way, but this is one of the sessions we are most excited to show you all. Now that August and I are settled into our new home in Kalamazoo we’re getting back in the grind of going through oldish (and really old) content, and planning a lot of great new things. Enough of that, though.

I’m sure most readers are aware, but Chris Bathgate recently put up a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a sustainable touring vehicle – or, as I like to call it, a veggie-bus. The campaign has been beyond funded, but the more they raise the better vehicle they’re going to get, and the incentives available are prettttttttty nice. In fact, we’re working on a 30 minute exclusive video containing both released and unreleased live footage of Chris from the Salt Tour and other shows. On top of that, you can get a life time subscription to Chris’ music, t-shirts (which Chris has never had before now!), lost recordings, and more. We don’t like to talk about Kickstarter’s too much, but this one is really neat, really environmental, and offers backers some really great incentives. Click here to check it out.

And, finally, what you clicked on this article for –

Prussia, “Poor English, Pt. 1″

2011 August 17th

By August Smith


Five-piece band Prussia will always be a challenge to describe for me. The group, made up of Ryan and Drew Spencer, Brenton Bober, Kasey Press, and Adam Pressley, make some of the most interesting and eclectic indie rock around, and have pioneered and honed their sound over the past few years. Rhythm-heavy, experimental, and raw are not adjectives that would mesh well with melodic, pretty, and catchy, but Prussia is like a Frankenstein of all these elements, built in some basement lair in Detroit. Ever since I first witnessed them at Boiling Pot Festival, I’ve really made a point of following their releases closely.

(check out an email interview we did with Prussia a while ago here!)

Yesterday, Prussia released part one of their three part album Poor English for free on bandcamp. The release is going to end up as their second album, and parts 2 and 3 are supposed to come out in the following months as they continue touring throughout the US. If you’ve listened to their first album and subsequent EP, you might generally know what to expect, but there are a few major things to note:  Poor English was produced by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.’s Josh Epstein and sounds radiant and clear (gone is the lo-fi of the past), the instrumentation now incorporates more electronic flourishes and truckloads of nontraditional percussion, and the songwriting has become a whole beast of its own.

I think there is a dressed-up ugliness to Prussia that I like. Ryan’s vocals are nasally, teeter off-key, and are occasionally hard on the ears, but they are nonetheless wholly emotional and full of personality. His lyrics, too, are refreshingly biting and sexually depraved (“Who put these hateful words in my head?/ Who are all these faggots in my bed?” from “Sheep Hunt”),  a  narrative voice of self-loathing and self-contradiction, like a William S. Burroughs  character so stuck up in his own head that he knows he’s a bit crazy.

The dressing-up of the ugliness comes from the actual sound of the group: chamber-pop with tribal drumming at parts, groove-heavy string-laced ballad at others. Nontraditional song structure is an interesting thing to note, as Prussia rarely relies on verse-chorus sort of tropes for these songs. “Sister” has a genuinely beautiful melody, and the dramatic ending of “Sheep Hunt” is absolutely huge. “Mediator” serves as a great example of both their weird song structures and the twisted lyrics, and it transitions fluidly into the groovy and driving “Bleeder.”  If pt 1 is any indication, let us count down the days till September’s pt 2.

Listen to “Sheep Hunt” and “Bleeder” below, and watch their live Audiotree session as well. Their bandcamp has pt 1 here, and you can order a 10” for $7.

[FREE MUSIC] Cousin Dud, Deep Waters, and an upcoming festival in IL

2011 August 16th

By August Smtih


Shortly after I posted that Ohtis article a few weeks back, I was contacted by Brandon Pacyna, who delivered hot wings with Ohtis’ main songwriter Sam Swinson in college. To quote: “…we both delivered hot wings for a dive bar in Bloomington, IL called Mugsys. Our boss was a conspiracy theorist and an over-the-top Ron Paul supporter. The pay was awful, the wings were above average, but Sam was pretty fun to work with.” I looked up Mugsys on Google Earth and, yeah, it does look kind of sketch (in an endearing way, I admit), but Brandon did point me in the direction of two great things: the band he manages, Cousin Dud, has played a few gigs with Ohtis and has recently released a pair of singles that are pretty fun folk rock tunes (available for free), and that band- along with a number of other IL groups- are doing a small Midwest-themed festival on the 20th. If you are in the area or know anyone who is, check it out on Facebook and maybe listen to a few of the bands. It’s good stuff.

I also recently received an email from David S.K., a man who is originally from Kalamazoo but has been living in Maine for the past few years. Under the name Deep Waters, David has spent roughly two years recording his debut album of synthy, dreampop tunes. The songs, heavy on texture and ambient soundscapes, unravel slowly and build to walls of shimmering and bright keyboards, with David’s quivering, ghostly vocals sort of threading their way through each song. The album feels like a labor of love, and is a good example of a unique artistic vision brought to fruition. The album is a free download, and also available on blue or gold 12″ from Diamond Wave Press.

Below, check out a track from Cousin Dud called “Kandy Brown,” and then slow it down with “In the Lake” from Deep Waters. Both radically different, but both undeniably radical.

Farm Block : Photos and Session

2011 August 7th

There was so much great stuff happening at Farm Block Fest 2011 this year I couldn’t even begin to capture all of it. Alas, enjoy some (late) photo highlights of the event! You can find the entire set on our flickr page by clicking here.

And once you hit the bottom of the photos, you’ll find a little duet cover by Jeremy Quentin of Small Houses and Fiona Dickinson.

Timothy Monger’s “The New Britton Sound” Review

2011 August 5th

by August Smith

EDIT : Timothy Monger’s “The New Britton Sound” is available for only $5 on his Bandcamp for today, 9/4/11, and tomorrow! Grab it now if you haven’t.

On March 15th, Timothy Monger (frontman of the on-hiatus Great Lakes Myth Society) set up a Kickstarter, asking for fans and supporters to pledge $3,500 to help fund the release of his new album The New Britton Sound. Within a mere 24 hours, the entire damn thing was funded (and then some) in what must be some kind of Kickstarter speed record or something. I certainly have never seen a band’s fund drive open and shut so quickly. Though one can’t really use that information to judge Monger’s caliber as a songwriter, the fact that his fans trust him enough to invest so quickly in a new solo album (his first in seven years!) does say leagues about what kind of person he is and what his fans expect.

That being said, we can all be glad that the project was funded, because The New Britton Sound is a tight collection of chamber folk songs leaning on the brighter and more radiant side of the genre. Recorded in barns and basements throughout Michigan (primarily in Britton, hence the name), the album has the expansive feeling of the Midwestern wilderness filling its lungs- the crickets chirping on “Witches,” for example, or the extensive use of rolling banjo melodies. “Recorded in basements and barns” might make some people think “lo-fi,” though, which couldn’t be farther from the truth; the production is clear and crisp, with layers of strings, horns, electric guitar, and various other timbres. “Guitar Case”’s string arrangements are particularly beautiful, with chorus-like backing vocals spun out over complex orchestration that could make any listener gawk.

The New Britton Sound is full of narrative-based lyrics, brimming with a storied atmosphere and sung by a narrative voice that is both inspiring and- in the sadder pieces- has seen better days. This voice can be heard in closing song “The Classics” with lines like: “Through the village of the dead/ Underage and overfed/ No one can blame you/ For playing the classics all night long.” A hint of nostalgia and sadness is obvious, but the words are surrounded by soft backing vocals and relatively upbeat instrumentation.

The New Britton Sound, all in all, sounds like it could be a Michigan classic itself, which is natural, coming from someone who has been present in the Midwestern music scene for so long. The album can be purchased and streamed here, with more information/ tour dates/ lyrics on the Timothy Monger website. And don’t forget, we did a bridgehouse session with Timothy Monger a while ago; below, watch “Witches” from that sesh. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another seven years for the next one, eh Mr. Monger?

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