From rock and soul to world music and “Traditional Songs & Ballads of the Irish Diaspora” courtesy of Nick Veine and Ben Traverse, this mid-November round-up covers plenty of musical territory.
Thanksgiving is just a week away and Local Spins continues to be thankful for the never-ending buffet of new Michigan music filling the airwaves and lighting up stages.
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West Michigan's music scene
Today, we spotlight six new albums from bands representing different parts of the region as well as varying parts of the musical spectrum.
Check out the reviews below, listen to tracks from all of the releases and browse previous Local Spins album reviews online here.
What Stands Out: Kalamazoo’s Fake Baseball continues to gain ground and recognition in the Michigan music scene for its eclectic blend of genres, textures and dynamic live shows, offering everything from goofy stage antics to solid musicianship to a sound that is instantly recognized when walking onto a festival ground. Following the band’s debut record, “In With The Id Crowd” (Local Spins review here), the group returns in 2023 after a busy year of travel with “The Goods,” a four-track EP that captures each gem that helps Fake Baseball shine so brightly. Listeners can delight in the unexpected on this release, with plenty of ear candy to decipher alongside melodies that get stuck in your head as you find yourself unable to sit still in your chair.
Digging Deeper: Fake Baseball is a beautiful tapestry of the West Michigan scene, with each member involved combining talents and cross-pollinating ambitions to create an art-pop group wholly their own yet a breath of fresh air to audiences around Michigan. “The Goods” provides another opportunity for folks to let loose and delight in their truest, most expressive selves while celebrating so much homegrown talent. Fans feel their authenticity on and off stage.
Perfect For: Not necessarily everyone (the band even describes this as “weirdo pop”), but for those needing a sonic charcuterie board to delight guests at the next wild shindig. Bring the glitter and gas up your friends on the dance floor. – Dutcher Snedeker
Upcoming Shows: Dec. 1 at Rugger’s Up and Under in Kalamazoo, with Basic Comfort alongside Saxsquatch & The Bridge Band; Dec. 31 at Bell’s Eccentric Cafe in Kalamazoo with Desmond Jones and Mighty Big Rig
What Stands Out: Low Phase’s EP, “Star Dog,” mirrors the infectious energy of a live performance so well that one might even be able to close their eyes and imagine that the sound is playing through amps at a concert venue rather than headphones. The Grand Rapids band’s bold, upbeat indie-rock sound is accessible to just about any audience, but the elements of shoegaze, garage rock and emo woven throughout the project give it a unique twist.
Digging Deeper: Low Phase plays with fuzzy guitar tones and filtered vocals to accent the more angsty side of the release, while catchy pop melodies and crisp vocals from lead vocalist Caleb Waldvogel highlighting the more optimistic moments. “Swimming,” in particular, serves as not only an epic six-minute closer, but also the most emotional track. It features evocative lyrics about getting better and an intense instrumental build that eventually fades into a somber piano melody.
Perfect For: The soundtrack to the next blockbuster coming-of-age film to hit theaters. – Holly Holtzclaw
Upcoming Shows: 8 p.m. Friday (Nov. 17) at The Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids with The American Hotel System, Feeding Grizzlies and Bedroom Ceilings; 8 p.m. Nov. 22 at Lager House in Detroit with Speedy Ortiz and Spacemoth
What Stands Out: The Erly is back with their own Michigan brand of indie-soul stylings on an album that is poised to get audiences dancing. Baked into the infectious hooks inspired by music elements of the ’60s and ’70s are lyrics exploring topics such as “female empowerment, mental health struggles, an identity” with a “musical backdrop of jazz-rock, disco, soul, roots-rock, and adult contemporary grooves,” according to the band’s own description. The album delivers on this vibe in spades, combining the tight-knit four-piece with additional session musicians sourced from “eight different cities, ensuring that every instrument and sound on the album was produced by a human being.”
Digging Deeper: With a sound and aesthetic that was realized after five years together, combined with their supportive audience of nearly 5,000 monthly listeners on Spotify alone, this Southwest Michigan band is poised to hit 2024 with a sound that is guaranteed to lift spirits. “Culture Fever” is a wonderful blend of styles that creates a feel-good, dance-filled and thought-provoking experience unfurled by this cohesive unit.
Perfect For: Generation-spanning listeners looking to enjoy modern music on the dance floor and then swapping stories in the morning. – Dutcher Snedeker
Upcoming Show: Nov. 16 at Cubby Bear in Chicago, with Lost Pyramids and Sundog
Listen: “Flame The Main”
The American Hotel System
“Can You Hear It?”
What Stands Out: Coming out of the gate with the title track’s anthemic pop-rock perfection, “Can You Hear It?” seems as if it’s gearing up to be a fun, light-hearted release. But the deeper listeners dive into the project, the deeper they dive into frontman Jacob Betts’ emotions. In just 25 minutes, this EP embarks on a journey of emotions from love, to grief, to acceptance. “Can You Hear It?” will be The American Hotel System’s first release since signing with SONO Music Group and will be distributed by Universal Music Group.
Digging Deeper: Even the ballad-style songs on the EP – “21st” and “Not the End” – have a driving energy behind them thanks to strong drumbeats and melodic strings. Betts reflects on the loss of his grandmother, his struggles with mental health and “seeking meaning” amidst whatever life throws at you. Of course, the human experience cannot be tied up neatly into a bow, but this EP might be the closest anyone will ever get to accomplishing that.
Perfect For: Reflecting on the meaning of life only to realize that maybe you don’t need to have it all figured out. – Holly Holtzclaw
Upcoming Show: 8 p.m. Friday (Nov. 17) at The Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids with Low Phase, Feeding Grizzlies and Bedroom Ceilings
What Stands Out: Long before this West Michigan world music trio ever released its long-awaited, much-anticipated debut album, multi-instrumentalist Thom Jayne, fiddler Keala Venema and accordionist Mariko Venema were making a major splash at live shows, winning band contests and impressing audiences with their unique instrumental mix and undeniable charm. “Reimagined” reinforces and validates that hype, uncorking everything from atmospheric and moody musical reflections to jaunty, high-spirited flourishes — sometimes all within the same song (“Moroccan Blues,” “Caravan”). Propelled by Jayne’s guitar, didgeridoo and tin whistle work, Keala’s fiddle and Mariko’s accordion, the trio quite literally takes listeners on a journey across the globe, from lilting Irish forays (“Banish Misfortune,” “Morrison’s Jig”) to Mideastern and Asian treks.
Digging Deeper: The trio melds its takes on traditional songs and classical compositions with original tracks, seamlessly unfurling both familiar and new melodies with the sort of musical finesse reserved for seasoned virtuosos — even tossing in Keala’s vocals on the trio’s rendition of “Summertime.” And throughout the 11 tracks, the album resonates with a smile-inducing, joyful verve — closing it all with, yes, the bubbly “Flintstones” theme.
Perfect For: That long road trip or intercontinental flight to faraway places. – John Sinkevics
Upcoming Shows: Dec. 2 at Michigan Academy of Folk Music in Holland; Dec. 16 at UrbanBeat in Lansing
Nick Veine & Ben Traverse
“Me Grief and Tears to Smother:
Traditional Songs & Ballads of the Irish Diaspora”
What Stands Out: West Michigan musicians Ben Traverse and Nick Veine tackle a collection of traditional Irish folk songs that hold a rich history, many of which date back to the 19th century or earlier. Traverse and Veine’s vocal harmonies and skillful playing bring depth to the songs without adding frills that detract from the source material. From upbeat songs that are begging for a sing-along moment, to storytelling ballads about love, grief and everything in-between, these 12 songs cover a lot of ground.
Digging Deeper: “Danny Boy” and “The Parting Glass” are likely some of the most familiar tracks for listeners and, despite not having written the lyrics, Traverse and Veine deliver them with so much emotion that one might imagine they did in another life. “Me Grief and Tears to Smother” was produced by Traverse and Veine, and mastered by fellow Michigan musician, Michael Dause, at Treetone Studios. While these tracks benefit from modern production and recording tools, they still hold the essence of the people and events that inspired them many years ago.
Perfect For: Spending a quiet fall or winter afternoon by the fire, daydreaming about another time and place. – Holly Holtzclaw
Upcoming Shows: 7:30 p.m. today (Nov. 16) at The Robin Theatre in Lansing with Micah Ling and Molly McBride; Nov. 22 at Oakview Medical Care Facility in Ludington; Jan. 19 at The Stray in Grand Rapids
Listen: “The Parting Glass”
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