Smack dab in the middle of a COVID-19 shutdown, Local Spins presents an early April roundup of new West Michigan album releases. Read the reviews, listen to the music.
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West Michigan continues to produce tantalizing new songs, and the first roundup of releases for April proves it with a two-volume set of pandemic-inspired tracks, captivating collections from two female singer-songwriters and an album that’s just “Being Frank.”
Check out the recaps of these releases and listen to songs from each of the featured artists.
“Quarantine Compilation Jams, Vol. I & II”
What Stands Out: This compilation album from the Grand Rapids record label Hoom Hits captures a moment in time where uncertainty and confusion seem to permeate every aspect of life. The eclectic mix fits the tone of the times with songs created by artists during the first week of Michigan’s “stay-in-place” order. The album notes on bandcamp reveal that the “call for submissions was put out for anyone to create a song during the first week of quarantine, record it and send it to us. … This is our community’s documentation of this strange time.” Donations requested for the album will support a fundraiser for Grand Rapids’ The Pyramid Scheme, which was forced to cancel or postpone several weeks of concerts due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Donate here.
Digging Deeper: The audio quality of these songs is all over the place, as one might expect from a project with such a quick turnaround and one utilizing home recordings. There are some very lo-fi tracks to be found on the compilation, along with some more polished tracks such as “Waste My Time” by Kissin Kate & Seth Beck and “Let the Sunlight In” by Further Closer. But audio quality isn’t the highlight here, because this compilation package of 27 tracks truly captures the pensive and reflective tone of the COVID-19 pandemic and what it means in West Michigan. There is a degree of melancholia throughout that is likely to meet listeners exactly where they are.
Perfect For: Feeling like you are still part of the West Michigan music scene while you are observing the remainder of lockdown from the safety of your home. It’s a two-volume compilation album so it’ll eat up some of that free time you’ve been struggling with. – Jamie Brackman
Listen: “Waste My Time,” Kissin’ Kate & Seth Beck
Listen: “New Card Games,” Cotter Koopman
“Into the Morning EP”
What Stands Out: From start to finish, this second EP from Grand Haven singer-songwriter Loren Johnson highlights her soulful voice and evocative lyrics, carried by dynamic instrumentation and tasteful accompaniment throughout. Listening to this album will give you a smooth and easy feeling down in your feet that will bring you back for more than one listen. The five songs here are a smooth blend of singer-songwriter, blues and soul. The lyrics touch on themes of healing from broken relationships, falling in love and finding peace in the process.
Digging Deeper: The album was crafted at Third Coast Recording Co. by Joe Hettinga, Mike Shimmin, Max Lockwood, Terrence Massey, Kate Pillsbury and Emilee Petersmark. It’s a high-fidelity recording, thoughtfully arranged with dynamic instrumentation that keeps the listener engaged with Johnson’s catchy melodies and thoughtful lyrics. While all the songs on this EP are worth listening to, “Closer to Free” stands out as a pensive and reflective anthem about liberation and the journey of personal growth. The opening title trackis perhaps the best of the whole bunch with driving bass, horns and keys; this one could really get you moving.
Perfect For: Sparking up a stay-at-home dance party with the one you love, or guaranteeing a positive vibe while getting some work done on the computer. – Jamie Brackman
Listen: “Closer to Free”
“Just In Case”
What Stands Out: The debut solo album from Grand Rapids singer Cole Hansen puts her songwriting — and her heart — on full display. Hansen has spent many years in various bands, and “Just In Case” reflects that experience in a polished array of folk, Americana and alt-country. Her smooth, comfortable voice is at the center of it all, surrounded by tastefully arranged drums, keys and electric guitar.
Digging Deeper: “Just In Case” is uniquely Hansen’s vision: Both the sound engineer and the band were picked because she felt they would help her bring her songs to life the way she heard them in her head. One immediate standout from the album is the love-letter ballad, “Hummingbird (You Are My Shelter),” which gives Hansen’s voice the space it deserves to shine. Her lyrics are occasionally pointed and fiery (take the no-holds-barred romp “Nobody Knows You” for example), but most of the songs retain a brighter note. “I’m Ok” tackles insecurities that may or may not be her own, declaring that the things that make us unique should be celebrated, not hidden. “Positive Affirmations” continues the trend, ending the album with a series of, well, positive affirmations. All in all, “Just In Case” is a delightful record that shows promise for Hansen’s career.
Perfect For: Fans of Brandi Carlile, Lucinda Williams and Maggie Rogers. – Devin Dely
Listen: “Hummingbird (You Are My Shelter)”
What Stands Out: Frank Pfaff’s music feels like it was made to be listened to under the stars. On “Being Frank,” the West Michigan songwriter channels his inner cowboy, presenting songs that feel like they were written and recorded on a hot summer night somewhere in rural Montana. “Lasso the Moon” stands out as a clear highlight from the album and captures this motif in a tender ballad that also reappears at the end of the album as a piano-only mix.
Digging Deeper: The clean and clear guitar tones on dreamier cuts like “Byways” bring to mind bands like Real Estate, whose music also feels fit to soundtrack a summer evening. Pfaff’s music occasionally dips into rockabilly or classic rock territory as well, like on the uptempo rocker “I Cry Alone,” which would feel right at home on an early Beatles record. Overall, “Being Frank” is a collection of songs by a talented Grand Rapids musician whose heart is rooted in the classics.
Perfect For: Fans of country, classic rock and stargazing. – Devin Dely
Listen: “Lasso the Moon”
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