This February roundup of new Michigan albums also features an in-depth look at the latest releases from Kalamazoo’s Jay Gavan and Detroit’s Three Spoke Wheel. Sample tracks from all of the albums.
As always, Local Spins traverses not only the great state of Michigan but a wide swath of genres.
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This February roundup of fresh releases proves that yet again with bands and solo artists hailing from the Detroit area, Traverse City, Kalamazoo and East Lansing, uncorking music ranging from the acoustic and sedate to the blistering and brazen.
Listen to tracks from all of these releases below, and check out previous Local Spins album reviews here.
Katy Needs A Life
“With Friends Like Bees”
What Stands Out: Kalamazoo hits us where it counts with this January synth-pop release. Among these 11 songs, the group offers bright synthesizer layers that mingle with discordant and distorted guitars, apathetic vocals and an often buoyant pulse. Katy Needs A Life brings the whole crew together for this sad soiree, debuting a full-band album chock full of thorny and fun provocative angst.
Digging Deeper: Recorded by Collin Schipper in Kalamazoo and mastered by Jason Corbett of Jackknife Sound Studios, Katy May leads the pack on vocals and synth while Reggi Myers (guitar, backing vocals), David Bolema (bass, additional guitar) and Jake Simmons (drums) round out the squad. While they describe themselves as an “electronic, sad-pop band,” the discernable punk and indie undertones peer through often on this record, reminiscent of Vagrant Records heyday. Don’t let the lively upbeat feel of some of these songs fool you: The lyrics are sad. The song “Couch” brings a sucker punch of emotion with lyrics like “…the stitching of your soul has become unsewn” followed by “I know we can’t always be together.” By the time you reach the sixth track, the listener is fully engulfed in sweet misery on “Let’s Dance,” in which Katy May doesn’t seem to be asking anyone to a sprightly samba. Instead, May leads the steps into a despondent disco and yet, the somber intonation is satisfying. The album-ender serves as an invitation to get comfortable and join the gang at the grief gala.
Perfect For: Fans of The Knife, The Anniversary, Pale Waves. – Jennifer Bartlett
Listen: “You Sure Do Talk About God A Lot”
What Stands Out: Soulful folk artist Dan Hazlett returns with “Turning Stone,” an album filled with positive affirmations and introspective stories that shoot straight into your spirit. Joined by fellow artist Scott Williams throughout the record, each track showcases Dan’s seasoned ability to craft a warm, inviting tune to sing along to while also emphasizing his greatest joys: celebrating life, family, community, education and the joy in making music. Every track on this record begs to be shared and experienced live, soaking in a chorus of voices that uplifts humanity with every breath.
Digging Deeper: Longtime fans of this artist from eastern Michigan understand how committed to music and humanity he is with every project and performance. Jazz, folk, rock and blues are all colorful tools to enhance the mood and storytelling of the album. His ability to craft timeless tunes that can be just as nostalgic as they are present and pertinent is wonderful, and it’s no wonder that he has garnered a following spanning decades in the American and even Canadian folk music communities.
Perfect For: Those seeking an antidote to dreary winter blues and a feel-good soundtrack to Michigan summer car rides. – Dutcher Snedeker
Listen: “Turning Stone”
Cross Eyed Strangers
What Stands Out: The sound of ’80s synths and catchy rhythm guitars drives Cross Eyed Strangers’ newest LP, “Mr. Conman.” This East Lansing band finds a perfect balance between indie-pop and indie- rock. The soft, melodic undertones in tracks such as “Broken Girl” and “Julia” complement the abrasive, angsty and alternative approach of “Patriot.”
Digging Deeper: Opening track “103.7” creates an experimental style with the visionary use of audio effects and storytelling. The thoughtful use of interludes and recurring modular sounds demonstrates their growth as musicians. It’s a fitting change for Cross Eyed Strangers because all 11 songs on “Mr. Conman” differ from their previous LP, “Darker,” as well as their two EPs, “Nocturne” and “Let It Fall.” Although different, Cross Eyed Strangers’ “Mr. Conman” still captures the reliable East Lansing indie vibe. Tracks from “Silhouette” to “Waste Away” will put listeners on the edge of their seats.
Perfect For: Fans of Leland Blue, Wallows or The 1975. – Robert Novak
Upcoming Show: February 26th at The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor.
Listen: “Tale of a Liar”
“A Public Thing”
What Stands Out: Experienced Kalamazoo singer-songwriter Jay Gavan’s third album, “A Public Thing,” differs from his two previous records as it doesn’t comprise the usual posse of guest musicians. Even so, it does not disappoint. “A Public Thing” — officially being released on Feb. 15 — reminds listeners of Gavan’s abilities to traverse diverse genres. Gavan’s time spent playing gypsy jazz with the Birdseed Salesmen and the Susie Parr Trio leads to hints of ‘la pompe’ slipping out in songs such as “Strange Arrow.” And as the guitarist for Guitar UP!, there are some obvious surf-rock influences in tracks such as “The Flutes.” Each song is a rhapsodic rollercoaster ride.
Digging Deeper: Not just a musician, Jay Gavan is also a history instructor at Kalamazoo Valley Community College and a music teacher at the Kalamazoo Academy of Rock. In the band room at the Kalamazoo Academy of Rock, Gavan self-produced “A Public Thing” during the pandemic. His isolated recording process somewhat motivated his songwriting. Gavan takes inspiration from the rise and fall of Ancient Greek Empires and alludes to the current polarization in American politics.
Perfect For: Fans of Django Reinhardt, Beach Fossils or The Beach Boys. – Robert Novak
Listen: “The Flutes”
“Without a Net”
What Stands Out: Straight out of the gate, Traverse City country singer/roots rocker Drew Hale shows that he means business with his latest compilation, declaring on the fist-pumping opening track, “Daredevil”: “I’m all-in as a boy can get / A daredevil in the sky / Flying without a net.” It’s also clear that this veteran, award-winning singer-songwriter has deftly found a way to straddle pop-fueled mainstream country (“Made for Summertime”) with soulful, rock-tinged Americana (“River Jordan”) to create what he views as “an alt-country, roots rock, modern folk record.”
Digging Deeper: “Without a Net” is actually a compilation of different projects featuring songs from a previously released band EP recorded in Nashville that never really saw the light of day along with new material he produced in his own studio. (Folks purchasing it on Bandcamp.com also receive acoustic versions of tracks planned for a future album.) There’s plenty of commercially fetching twang in this Texas transplant, but the most striking, most compelling tracks (“Ashes,” “I Don’t Sleep Anymore,” “River Jordan”) mine a rootsier, “red dirt” quality. Hale also pulls off a dusky, swampy, truly impressive cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game,” showing off his powerful vocals.
Perfect For: Country fans who prefer a little Michigan grit in their music. – John Sinkevics
Three Spoke Wheel
What Stands Out: This isn’t the first time this group has self-produced an album and it’s clear that this Detroit trio has refined and implemented its skills in songwriting, recording and performing. This six-song EP embodies a variety of sounds all stemming from the pure essence of rock ‘n’ roll; a true nod to the industrious and resolute Motor City.
Digging Deeper: Opening up with a galvanic effect, this album carries the tenacious spirit and DIY ethics that punk has personified. As the ear moves along, a strong progressive undercurrent pulls the listener in as psychedelic notes push forward. Track No. 3, appropriately titled “Acid Dream,” showcases a trippy vitality with the use of a wah-wah pedal, a verbose guitar solo and esoteric lyrics. Members Justin Gumina, Ryan Thomas and Jeff Whitmore step out on a valiant post-punk, multifarious effort to whisk together a variety of influences and whip up something fresh. If you’ve never heard of the genre grungedelic rock before, “Metamorphosis” will show you exactly what that sounds like.
Perfect For: Cracking open a cold one and wrenching on your hot rod on a breezy Saturday morning. – Jennifer Bartlett
Upcoming Shows: March 4 at Mulligan’s Pub in Grand Rapids; March 19 at Turnstiles in Grand Rapids
Listen: “Last Drop”
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