Welcome to the first album review roundup of 2022, with a half-dozen new releases by West Michigan artists encompassing rock, country, electronic music, folk and pop.
Some Michigan artists wrapped up 2021 with a flurry, while others kicked off the new year with fresh releases.
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Here are just a half-dozen of those new albums and EPs, from a compilation of sorts from a funk-rock fave that pulls together previously released tracks with new material to a long-awaited new album from a much-admired ‘dark folk’ singer-songwriter. Check out the reviews and listen to tracks from each release.
And you can find previous Local Spins album reviews here.
The Hacky Turtles
What Stands Out: The Hacky Turtles have always been a distinct flavor in the West Michigan music scene, drawing from the funk-laden rock of The Red Hot Chili Peppers, the anthemic rock of Kings of Leon, and the spirit of bands like Rainbow Kitten Surprise. “Dichotomy” is the band’s sophomore album, following its 2016 record, “Astro Blastro” and fleshing out more tunes from the 2019 EP, “Sonder.” Between moving back from Chicago to Grand Rapids, lineup changes, and a global pandemic, it’s no wonder the band has a lot to express creatively. Upbeat numbers, half-time pocket grooves, and catchy chorus hooks are all over this record that pairs nicely with a lyrical focus on mental health.
Digging Deeper: “Dichotomy” is reflective of the Grand Rapids band’s journey these last few years, highlighting the roots of the band’s foundation against the newer elements incorporated going forward. The title also refers to the writing dynamic throughout the album, since guitarists Alex Rushlow and Austin Spencer contributed a 50/50 split of the writing for this release. Sonically, the record is cohesive without feeling plain, taking their influences and wearing them proudly on their sleeve while distinguishing themselves from the West Michigan musician pack in the process.
Perfect For: A twilight summer music festival in the woods where you lose all semblance of time to the grooving rhythms and catchy chorus melodies. – Dutcher Snedeker
The Bootstrap Boys
What Stands Out: In the most raw, humanistic way, The Bootstrap Boys wet the ol’ whistle with a straightforward country rock EP. Though the quartet is based out of Grand Rapids, this release delivers an earnest 17 minutes of Southern, whiskey-soaked flair that has you convinced that the outlaw is your friend.
Digging Deeper: Rooted in Americana and bluegrass, this collection of tunes mostly rings melancholy, crooning tales of love, loss, longing and blue-collar woes. The line, “It’s as lonely as a dying fire’s last dying spark” hits you like a clobber to the heart on the ardent and somber track “Broadway Blues.” However, standing out are two tracks that sit a little higher with an uptempo groove and wistful lyrics. Lead vocalist Big Jake Bootstrap gives the listener a little insight to one of those songs, stating “Wildcat Mountain is a song about looking at yourself or a personal experience from the perspective of an outsider, while reconciling that idea with who you believe yourself to be. It’s also about being cognizant of the fact that a sad truth can still be a good truth.” Ending on a mournful note, “Neon Light” wraps up the six-song collection with classic twang and a deep dramatic stinger; the perfect track to throw back one last bourbon swig.
Perfect For: Simmering down around a late summer campfire. – Jennifer Bartlett
Upcoming Shows: “Country Music Hour” with Big Jake Bootstrap, 6 p.m. Fridays (online streaming)
Listen: “Broadway Blues”
What Stands Out: West Michigan’s Fiona Dickinson does a wonderful job blending ambient soundscapes within a driving indie-rock style on her long-awaited new release. From the first track, listeners are treated to lush strings and gorgeous textures wrapping their eardrums in a cozy, sonic sweater. Then, the band dives into a live-feeling, shoegaze/dream pop experience that compels you to dance in your bedroom and lose yourself in the music. “PONY” is a beautiful work that delights between the melancholic and melodic, soothing weary souls while leaving them with a song to sing when the album stops playing.
Digging Deeper: Even when the twang of a country guitar lick or a softer folk ballad appears on the record, the direction of “PONY” is fully realized and clear throughout. The range of influences on this project are tastefully incorporated within the style of Dickinson and her band, never distracting and always enhancing the songwriting or mood of each track. Pair this vision with the engineering talents of Matt Ten Clay (Amber Lit Audio), mastering polish from UK-based Katie Tavini, and performing talents of Dan Fisher (electric guitar/lap steel), Shane Tripp (bass), and Ben Weissenborn (drums), and it’s a labor of love that is enjoyable front to back.
Perfect For: Dreary winter days inside when you long for that intimate concert experience dancing in a room filled with your closest friends. – Dutcher Snedeker
“Make The Seen” / “Now Dig This!”
What Stands Out: In a dreamy amalgam of genres, Zebra 3 keeps nostalgia alive and well in this double power pop release. This West Michigan supergroup offers a sundry of retrospective sounds throughout these sister EPs, both brimming with flavors of whimsical bubblegum and playful cloddishness.
Digging Deeper: In what feels like an authentic venture to weave elements of surf-rock into a dominant sound of ’60s psychedelic pop, these musicians do not limit their creations to just one genre or time period. Even with the discernable mid-century feel, veteran rockers Mitch Wood, Jack Leaver, Todd Truman and Dave Stanton do not attempt to tunnel their influences into one narrow sound. The first track off of “Make The Seen,” called “Love the Life You Live” sets the positive tone with lyrics like “we get out of it what we give / when you live the life you love, you love the life you live.” The track “Sunshine Girl” from “Now Dig This!” sings of summer romance adding various woodwinds and horns to add sparkle and depth. Throughout both albums, group vocal harmonies continue to play an integral part while also laden with wah pedals, experimental flare, dancing tambourine and tangy reverb. With the robust, reminiscent vibes of these songs, it’s not surprising to find that engineer Tommy Schichtel (of Goon Lagoon) had the band record analog through similar vintage gear that The Beatles had used. Afterwards, the tracks were sent off to be mastered in London at Abbey Road Studios giving these songs the evocative enchantment they deserve.
Perfect For: Fans of The Byrds, The Beatles, The Beach Boys. – Jennifer Bartlett
Listen: “Sunshine Girl”
Cal in Red
What Stands Out: The Grand Rapids duo Cal In Red duo has created a wonderful debut record filled with spacey, warm synth pads, indie-pop flare, and a hypnotic wash of electronic sounds and textures overtop dreamy dance beats. Each track feels like a modern exploration of the ’80s, blending the retro-wave aesthetic with the production polish and musical vocabulary of today. Listeners are treated to swirling, sonic pools of neon twilight speckling a vibrant cityscape that creates a nostalgic environment to explore. It is reminiscent of bands like MGMT or Tame Impala, who elevate their electro-acoustic sounds with solid production that translates beautifully to a live environment.
Digging Deeper: “Cellular” celebrates a strong starting point from Cal In Red (Kendall and Connor Wright), with these singles already cultivating a large streaming audience on Spotify, a run of shows around the country, and opportunities in the Michigan music scene. This record speaks to the power of the modern musician as well: to be able to write, record, and produce everything themselves to not only save money but to secure their artistic vision from the jump. As things continue to open up for musicians in the region, Cal In Red will no doubt be popping up on lineups all over the state.
Perfect For: A late summer drive through the city, windows down and spirits high as you soak into each song. – Dutcher Snedeker
Upcoming Show: Jan. 20 at Mulligan’s Pub in Grand Rapids (with hi-ker and Silent Spirit)
Listen: “Got What You Wanted”
The Stick Arounds
“Waiting For The Click”
What Stands Out: This Lansing power pop five-piece brings a metallic, indie-rock sound to its 2021 release. Entrenched in country and classic rock, this album pushes through with vintage ambience paying homage to their Midwestern roots.
Digging Deeper: Co-released by Phonophore Records and GTG Records, this 10-minute banger was recorded by band members Matthew Carlson, Ian Walker, Jason Lantrip and mixed by Ian Walker. Joined by members Jeffrey Gower and Joel Kuiper, the songs were constructed with influences from rock bands such as Big Star and Scottish alt-rockers Teenage Fanclub. The melodies that the group brings forth in these four tracks also reflect remnants of Tom Petty and Cheap Trick. Southern ingredients pepper the garage rock stew while velvety vocal harmonies interlace contrasting guitar crunch. Layers of “oohs” add a glimmering touch and while you’re relishing top notes of regret and remorse on track “Ode To Kid Marine,” you realize that all too suddenly, your main course is through.
Perfect For: Hiding in your car and blasting the stereo to release tension after escaping a dreaded family reunion. – Jennifer Bartlett
Upcoming Shows: Feb. 5 at The Avenue Cafe in Lansing; Feb. 11 at Horrocks Farm Market in Lansing; March 5 at Otus Supply in Ferndale
Listen: “Easy To Take”
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