Fresh releases from W. Michigan’s Austin Benzing, Bermuda Teenager and Opulent Ardor round out this early October collection. Browse the reviews, listen to tracks from all of the recordings.
A robust summer of new releases by West Michigan artists has been followed by an equally as vigorous fall season.
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This early October roundup features the latest recordings from a couple of uber-popular regional bands as well as debut efforts from several emerging artists.
And check out previous Local Spins album reviews of Michigan releases online here.
What Stands Out: Everything on “Why Not?” — the latest release from Grand Rapids-based jam band Desmond Jones — follows a seamless thematic thread. From the ’50s Wild West comic-style album cover to the loosely harmonic, soul-laden choruses and quirky solos, “Why Not?” puts its chips on the table and walks away with success. The vocal work from John Nowak, Isaac Berkowitz and George Falk meanders its way through the album like an old friend recollecting hometown memories. It’s wholesome, genuine and hits the right notes without gimmicks. However, while “Why Not?” should be praised for its charming consistency, it comes with surprises that create lingering moments. Sax solos from out of nowhere on “TRACK,” graceful strings guiding “Two Dreams,” and the raw break-back energy throughout “Mississippi” creates powerful highs on a track list that doesn’t bother with digging out lows.
Digging Deeper: The album’s opening track, “Arizona,” is an addicting introduction to the tone that the rest of this collection carries. Between colorful imagery, rocking chord progressions and a belt-it-or-bust chorus, it embodies the best parts of its Americana roots. The track is anchored not only by beautiful instrumental composition throughout, but really touching lyrics that paint a miraculous sepia-toned soundscape. “Mississippi” grabs you by the neck and swings you around the barnyard with crashing drums, high-wire vocal energy and a string of stellar solos — all without letting you go until the bubble pops with a country crescendo. Amid tracks that rocks between personal rambles and country-propelled boot-movers, it’s impressive that “Mississippi” can raise the bar even higher.
Perfect For: Riding the highs and low of backyard brews with old friends. – Nick Moran
Upcoming Shows: Oct. 24 at The Caverns in Pelham, Tenn. (with Here Come the Mummies); Oct. 29 at Schuba’s in Chicago; Oct. 30 at Park Place in Muskegon; Nov. 12 at Otus Supply in Ferndale; Nov. 19 at Bell’s Eccentric Cafe in Kalamazoo; Nov. 24 at Elevation inside The Intersection in Grand Rapids
What Stands Out: August continues to build out its skills as writers, performers and self-producers with “Through The Looking Glass,” building on the themes and concepts expressed in last year’s EP release, “Chaos & Comfort.” The Grand Rapids band crafts new songs and rework older melodies into new contexts in a variety of ways: placing songs in all sorts of meters, choice deviations from their soul-pop sound, and lyrical depictions of “navigating a world on fire.” August’s classic blend of soul, jazz and rock elements with stellar musicianship, soaring vocal harmonies and infectious hooks all are on full display, with every thought and emotion from a tumultuous year captured in each track.
Digging Deeper: Every inch of this record is scrutinized by the band, from clever arranging choices to production techniques — all to serve the feeling of entering into another world. August’s sound shines brightest through its continued journey into these new worlds, expanding band members’ artistry beyond the simple into the sublime.
Perfect For: Those looking to greet the chaos with comfort, sinking into the spirit of artistry in the face of uncertainty. – Dutcher Snedeker
Upcoming Shows: Oct. 21 at Sawyers Brewing Co. in Montague (Duo); Nov. 5 at The Livery in Benton Harbor; Nov. 27 at Unruly Brewing Co. in Muskegon
Listen: No Turning Back Now
What Stands Out: From the album’s opening seconds, Grandville-based Feeding Grizzlies’ “The Wash” is flat-out fun. It’s the music that makes you want to unbutton collars, crush empty beer cans and rock heads to with its jovial, fresh stylings. But when “The Wash” isn’t blazing down the highway in the fast lane, its slower moments are ones to remember, complete with droning vocals and reserved, but glamorous guitar. The duality of aesthetic tempos provides the listener with more clarity than dissonance, as it justifiably shows Feeding Grizzlies’ range. Without nearing divisiveness, the band shows on “The Wash” that its sound isn’t sorted neatly into one venue, but branches between highs and lows in what is a tantalizing 36-minute track list.
Digging Deeper: “The Wash” comes out of the gates running, and tracks like “In This Land” summon the garage band-style that most of the album begs to part of. It’s complete with sing-along choruses, drawn-out power chords and steady cymbal crashes that lead up to a soulful, 80s-influenced guitar solo that screams alongside vocalist Grant VanderKallen. But immediately after, “Storm’s Coming,” feels like the smell of rain before first lightning strikes. It’s slow, steady and peels the pedal back from the floor to reveal a band that handles the soft notes with stunning grace. It breaks the head-thrashing, dimly lit box in which much of the album thrives and delivers one of the album’s more memorable moments.
Perfect For: Scratching the live-music energy itch between concerts. – Nick Moran
Upcoming Shows: 8 p.m. Friday at The Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids (with Pretoria, The Doozers and Secret Forte)
Listen: “In This Land”
What Stands Out: Austin Benzing drives the bus in his debut release as a band leader, “Steady Your Nerves,” showcasing another side of his artistry heard in groups like the Benzing Graves Collective, The Turnips and The Balsam Brothers. Riding on this bus for eight tunes traveling the spectrum of country music are members of The Turnips, Ultraviolet Hippopotamus, vocalist Hannah Rose Graves and keyboardist Joe Hettinga (May Erlewine, The Ollam, Marcus Rezak). Stops on the journey feature ripping guitar solos over driving rock beats, unexpected styles decorating the walls of each track, and a gleeful interpretation of a classic American style. There’s grit, blues, rock ‘n’ roll, and a whole lot of soul behind this record; you can feel the fun this band had in the studio.
Digging Deeper: “Steady Your Nerves” feels like a challenge to Austin’s creative process, reminding him to stick to his guns and fearlessly ride this horse into the wilderness. He takes great care to blend the authentic country sounds and tropes with his own artistry, celebrating the genre while adding his voice confidently overtop.
Perfect For: For classic and current country fans alike, folks looking to throw down in the Michigan hoedown and take brief trips outside of expectations. – Dutcher Snedeker
Upcoming Shows: 9 p.m. Friday (Oct. 8) at Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill in Grand Rapids (album-release show with Benzing-Graves Collective); 8 p.m. Saturday (Oct. 9) at The Sawmill Saloon in Big Rapids; Oct. 22 at Unruly Brewing in Muskegon
Listen: “Curtain Call”
What Stands Out: Born during quarantine in 2020, this project was meant to be a form of escapism during the pandemic. With the intention to be released in a few short months after recording it, the EP ended up taking a little longer than expected, which Bermuda Teenager and Opulent Ardor say reflects the way we initially thought the pandemic would be over within a matter of a few weeks.
Digging Deeper: The record feels like a peaceful dream, with both artists’ voices smoothly singing over the psychedelic, chilling tunes. Bermuda Teenager’s opening track, “Quarantine Dream,” is just that, a far away land that reflects where everybody wanted to be while faced with the daunting events of 2020. Opulent Ardor’s opening track, “Distance Learning,” nods to the album art, with the lyrics “Distance learning by coercion/As the pressure keeps on rising/And I swear I’ve never felt so alone.” The song is a commentary on how even though the world seemed to have stopped during lockdown, we were still expected to show up to work and school, still giving our best efforts. The album continues to exude a comforting but eerie vibe that can accurately describe the feeling of being locked inside with ourselves for so long.
Perfect For: Winding down at home, reflecting and accepting the events of the past year. – Liv Conaty
Listen: Bermuda Teenager, “Quarantine Dream”
Listen: Opulent Ardor, “Distance Learning”
What Stands Out: Frontman Matthew Carlson spoke about this release coming together purely from the phrase “Joy is Elusive,” and this aptly named record explores anxiety, depression and the feeling of living in isolation, emotions that are “part of the human condition.” The darker subject matter in the lyricism complements the happier arrangements beautifully, signifying the joy that surrounds humanity while feeling hidden from perception as inner turmoil often obscures our source of light. While elusive, joy is palpable in every inch of every track, cranked high to delight in the wonderful moments of life. Springsteen-esque working-class anthems, heartbreaking ballads centered around mental health, and REM-inspired dance numbers paint the colors and nuances of humanity across Harborcoat’s wonderfully crafted canvas.
Digging Deeper: “Joy is Elusive” combines detailed storytelling through well-crafted lyricism and a range of pop/rock influences to expertly express the nuanced aspects of humanity going through an insane snapshot of history. Each member brings experience and artistry to serve a greater sound, mirroring the strength that comes from a community coming together in the face of trying times.
Perfect For: Listeners looking to face the darkness with spirited, anthemic rock that begs for a crowd of gleeful dancers. – Dutcher Snedeker
Upcoming Shows: Oct. 15 at Otus Supply in Ferndale; Nov. 6 at The Record Lounge in Lansing (acoustic show)
Listen: “Help Me Out Somehow”
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