A busy year for Michigan releases amid a pandemic gives fans much to savor, including impressive albums by Traverse City’s Biomassive and Pico, Chown & Sears. Read the reviews, listen to the music.
We’ve said it before: It’s been an action-packed year for new Michigan album releases despite the upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Today, Local Spins rounds up diverse offerings from four Grand Rapids artists and two from the Traverse City area, with tracks to sample from each of the featured albums.
Miss some of our previous reviews? Check them out here: https://localspins.com/category/album-reviews/
What Stands Out: “Reanimate” captures some of Earth Radio’s best songwriting, woven tightly with its ever-befuddling musicianship and sonic exploration. While every moment of an Earth Radio song sounds like an experiment, the Grand Rapids band never gets lost in the esoteric. There’s clear intentionality at every turn. One particularly successful experiment can be heard on “Evolve.” It’s quite an anthem: a lyrical plea for harmonious self-actualization which grows particularly anthemic when the band is joined by a “virtual choir” featuring dozens of its fans and friends. Earlier this year, the band put out an open call for its fans to lend vocals to the track. It’s quite beautiful when the choir (which seems to include about half of West Michigan’s music scene) joins the band in singing, “Evolve with me, grow in my company.”
Digging Deeper: Earth Radio’s delightful juxtapositions truly soar on a run in the middle of the album which begins with “Analytical Loops, Pt. 1.0.” The never-ending hook, “going down these analytical loops,” is propelled by a flurry of strange sounds and rapid drum and percussion patterns. The loop gives way to the monstrous “Dance Like Me,” where video game-like synth work and an energetic soul song seem to work in conversation. Lead singer/keyboardist Hannah Laine Schroeder’s wrenching, acrobatic vocal solo is a standout moment on the album. Then, a reprise with “Analytical Loops, Pt. 1.5.” It’s just as analytically loopy, and makes for a wild musical adventure. Other choice tracks include the dreamy “M.L.M.B.” and the ever-so-catchy “Get Up.”
Perfect For: An aimless nighttime drive under a bright, full moon. – Devin Anderson
(Watch the “Evolve” video.)
“Dalmatian Stone: 2020”
What Stands Out: It’s a party! The sophomore effort from Grand Rapids’ Dalmatian Stone begs to be heard in a live setting. The music evokes as much Prince as it does Lenny Kravitz, rooted in classic funk but fully immersed in modern rock and R&B. There’s quite an array of sounds, from exotic sounding percussion to choppy funk guitar and even portions of a speech by John F. Kennedy on “War Is Not the Answer.” Vocalist Danielle Cosby is featured prominently across the album, adding more dimension (and some serious vocal ability) to an already diverse-sounding band.
Digging Deeper: The album’s opening track, “Gonna Touch the Sky,” showcases the whole band quite nicely. A bedrock of funky bass is decorated with ethereal synths and sound design which feel simultaneously vintage and futuristic. The crooning ballad, “All I Wanna Do,” features what might be the album’s best chorus, and vocalist Diego Morales sounds exceptionally smooth.
Perfect For: A distant dream in which venues are open and welcoming healthy patrons by the hundreds to dance to some funky 16th notes. – Devin Anderson
Listen: “Gonna Touch the Sky”
“Through the Amp”
What Stands Out: For musicians and audiophiles in some circles, the word “dirty” has come to reverently describe heavy, distorted music – music that rocks, grooves or might make the listener involuntarily make that lovely sour candy face. Bruce Madden must run in such circles, as his new album, “Through the Amp,” is filthy– and joyously so. The album shows Madden, a veteran Grand Rapids musician and connoisseur of early electric blues records, interpreting some of those classics made popular by the likes of Little Walter and John Lee Hooker, among others. The album’s name refers to the way Madden records his vocals and harmonica: straight into vintage guitar amps. Those screaming tones, paired with an equally vintage-sounding rhythm section captured at Goon Lagoon studios in Grand Rapids, push the notion of dirty electric blues to sizzling and loud new heights. Here’s to hoping Madden and company budgeted for some earplugs in the process.
Digging Deeper: It’s a superbly paced album, bookended by two of Madden’s originals, “Future Tense” and “The House is on Fire.” Both tracks distinguish the more rocking and alternative sensibilities that sonically define the rest of the album. On “The House is on Fire,” a straightforward blues riff represents a certain stability at the song’s core. That stability is challenged by Madden’s brooding lyrics and two overdriven guitars, one teetering with deep tremolo and the other (the proverbial fire) heavily overdriven and played with a slide. It’s grim and delicious.
Perfect For: Drawing upon the wisdom of a bygone era in an attempt to make sense of the strange world we live in today. Perhaps there is some insight to be gleaned, or maybe it just sounds good. Who’s to say? – Devin Anderson
Listen: “Future Tense”
Sugartone Noise Co.
“Local Band Asked to Leave”
What Stands Out: The Grand Rapids-based Sugartone Noise Co.’s full-length debut album offers rock fans the perfect way to end their summer on a high note. The album’s plethora of upbeat tracks can’t help but get listeners’ heads bobbing and feet moving, with “Point Nemo” and “Pagan Song” standing out as high-energy romps. And this is a band that boasts a sense of humor, from the album title itself to the opening track, “Warmup,” that’s, well, quite literally a 25-second track of the band warming up. It instantly gives the album an amusing, self-deprecating and homey atmosphere while maintaining some serious chops throughout. (By the way, the final 16-second track, “Exit,” is just what it says.)
Digging Deeper: Listening to “Local Band Asked to Leave” – recorded, mixed and mastered at Grand Rapids’ Cold War Studios – is a lot like re-discovering and re-appreciating an old album from your favorite rock band. Ian McDonough, Peter Cook and Carlon Parmalee comprise this power trio that cleverly meshes substance, emotion, driving beats and good vibes in a garage-rock sort of way.
Perfect For: Motivating yourself. – Jason Clark
Listen: “Point Nemo”
What Stands Out: Released in early September, the latest LP from Traverse City-based progressive jam band Biomassive represents a sprawling collection of instrumentals from a band that never seems to run out of ideas. Each song is truly a journey in itself, jumping through riffs, genre changes and key changes in true progressive fashion without ever losing track of its center. Instrumental jam music that’s actually engaging rather than just a muddled mess of musicianship is a rare find, but Biomassive’s new record proves this band is a diamond in the rough.
Digging Deeper: Right from the get-go, it’s clear that every band member is working in sync. The opening track, “Earth Girls are Easy,” starts slowly before launching into a full-on Latin jam, with guitarist Kevin Paul giving Carlos Santana a run for his money. But even though the guitar takes the center stage on most tracks, there’s a lot more to be appreciated here. Drummer/percussionist duo Matt Zimmerman and Shandon Williams take every opportunity to create complex rhythmic arrangements (see “Byzantine Conduit”), and keyboard players Ben Wyler and Connor Lindsay are just as deft at generating riffs as they are at adding sonic textures to the music, exhibited in a tracks such as “Exploratory Earl.”
Perfect for: Fans of jam music and progressive rock. – Devin Dely
Listen: “Chiwi’s Revenge”
David Chown, Miriam Pico, Laurie Sears
“Live at St. Andrews”
What Stands Out: There’s an undeniable energy sparked by enthusiastic audiences on live recordings, especially these days when so much of that is missing due to the coronavirus pandemic. That makes this new live album from Traverse City-area pianist David Chown, singer/guitarist/ukulele player Miriam Pico and saxophonist Laurie Sears a real joy, not only for its upbeat and uplifting jazzy milieu but for the fervent singing, musicianship and, yes, whistling, that winds its way through classics by Irving Berlin, The Beatles, the Gershwins, Carole King and others, as well as Pico originals. From the opening notes of “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” to the closing take on “I’ll Be Seeing You,” Pico helps propel this album recorded in 2018 at Beulah’s St. Andrews Presbyterian Church with her engaging personality and passionate singing.
Digging Deeper: Tracks such as “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” “I Got Rhythm” and “Lift Up Heart” boast a fetching, vintage quality, with Pico’s sultry and far-ranging vocals enhanced by lively keyboard and saxophone work. Also, 10 percent of album and DVD sales are being donated to Northwest Michigan Supportive Housing and the Women’s Resource Center.
Perfect For: Snapping you out of the doldrums. You can’t possibly listen to this collection without smiling and feeling a little better about everything. – John Sinkevics
Listen: “They Can’t Take That Away From Me”
Copyright 2020, Spins on Music LLC