The first regional albums roundup of 2020 spotlights artists from Grand Rapids to Kalamazoo to Holland to Traverse City, and covers a broad spectrum of genres. Sample tracks from all of the releases.
Local Spins’ first regional albums roundup of 2020 covers a lot of bases geographically and musically.
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The half-dozen releases spotlight artists from Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Holland and Traverse City, and cover everything from hip hop to rock to R&B to jazz to emo-punk.
Listen to tracks from each release and check out more Local Spins album reviews online here.
“T.U.T. (The Uhura Tape)”
What Stands Out: Living up to their name, this creative collective spearheaded by producer/performer/emcee Dante Cope has released different listening experiences on its latest release, “T.U.T.,” a follow-up to “T.A.T.” (which was released in 2020 and soared to No. 1 on the Local Spins Hot Top 5 Chart at WYCE-FM). Each song has its own flavor, with “Everynight” hitting hard due to a powerful, repeating chorus tag placed in between two different flows from Ariana Charlene and Dante Cope. The backbeat grooves with a Motown-inspired vibe while being layered with dark synths and percussion samples punctuating the texture of the tune. On “Tightrope,” the mood shifts with a slowly building, more pop- and rock-infused track. The repeating bass line is accompanied by drums, tambourine, a catchy whistle hook and a counter melody placed against the various, repeating vocal lines. This release even includes an a cappella and instrumental version of each tune, allowing listeners to dive deeper into how each component fits together.
Digging Deeper: These two singles from Les Creatif continue to strengthen the group’s ability to deliver on its creative vision as a collaborative effort. Solid production matched with an abundance of ear candy in the arrangements creates an experience that is engaging and fun to revisit.
Perfect For: Folks looking to double down on creativity in 2021, celebrating all of the sounds and styles that Les Creatif has coming your way. – Dutcher Snedeker
Jude Lolley & The Flux
What Stands Out: Jude Lolley concocts a loud, visceral experience that turns the volume up on both instruments and emotions. The opening track, “Mrs. Witness,” grooves to the tune of bright electric guitars and hyper-fast drums. The melodies and tone of the song remind of bands like Green Day, but the vibe is happier and more optimistic. Next up, “Final Form Hermit” kicks things off with a heavy guitar and bass riff that rattles the track’s opening measures. A smoldering guitar solo bleeds into the mix and the track goes from grunge-surf to a heavy rock ’n’ roll breakdown that begs for rock fists thrown to the sky. Another notable track is “Eyes on You,” a bonus track with a rhythmically intriguing intro. Post-intro, drums and guitars take over, laying the ground for angsty lyrics and the ominous chant of backing vocals. A real treat arrives near the end with a revved-up breakdown that has guitars venturing into varying tonalities and drums pounding away wildly.
Digging Deeper: Jude Lolley creates a wall of heavy sound with “3.” It’s a high-octane record that drives with a pedal to the floor the whole time. It could be, at times, perceived as slightly robotic; there could be a bit more soul and swing to its rigid instrumental parts. But it accomplishes the feat of being a head-banging record with a lot of grit.
Perfect For: Rawk-fist raging; high-speed pursuits via video game; rattling the windows and waking the neighbors. – Ricky Olmos
Listen: “Eyes on You”
“HARD (Hustle and Reflect Daily)”
What Stands Out: This new release from Grand Rapids’ M.I.C. Book fuses raw, emotional storytelling against a comfortable backdrop of soulful, funk-infused loops. Even with additional guest producers PRODBY JAMES, Samil, Sm^th, MD, BigDipper77, and Project Melanin, the message of the album is unified from shared experiences within the inner city: staying strong against the world around them (hard), working tirelessly to provide for themselves and others (hustle), and constantly examining their circumstances while looking for ways to break out of certain cycles and take stock in what they value to how to help those around them (reflect daily). Tunes like “Horchata,” Put That Work In” and “It’s That Real” all showcase how nuanced the discussions surrounding what you are born into and what options you have to improve your circumstances. Not to say that these songs are word-for-word true stories from these collaborators, but the full album paints a picture of just how hard being surrounded by a life of drug-dealing, violence and dismissal from societal power structures can result in searching for a better life through whatever means necessary.
Digging Deeper: This album transcends the tropes that Hollywood tries to paint inner-city culture through real, relatable stories born from a desire to pour energy into art and educate others through life experiences. There is criticism, empathy and knowledge breathed into every line, challenging listeners to confront these subjects while each groove bumps in their subconscious.
Perfect For: A long car ride to really soak in the sounds with a friend, knowing you’ll be able to have some deep conversation afterwards. – Dutcher Snedeker
Listen: “Horchata (feat. Wuzee)”
“Love and Loss, Vol. 3”
What Stands Out: The third installation in Kalamazoo multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and producer Geoff Stockton’s 2020 series of album releases oozes the kind of dreamy late-night R&B and buoyant, retro-flavored pop that does a heart and soul good. West Michiganders might recognize Stockton from his work with the band Pillar to Post, though this is a far different animal than that rock-oriented outfit featuring Brian Koenigsknecht. There’s an infectious, upbeat air to Stockton’s groovy tracks, perhaps best exemplified by these lyrics from “Moped Girl”: “Your heart may hurt, but it’s going to be all right.”
Digging Deeper: While most recordings benefit from an outside producer and collaboration with other musicians, Stockton manages to unfurl an organic, cohesive, ensemble-like set of tracks that he wrote, arranged, performed, mixed and mastered on his own. If nothing else, Vol. 3 in this series will certainly motivate some listeners to check out Volumes 1 and 2 as well.
Perfect For: Post-dinner dancing in the living room; fans of Sly & The Family Stone, Steely Dan and old-school soul/funk. – John Sinkevics
“I Am Not a Virus”
What Stands Out: With his upcoming new record, “I Am Not a Virus,” jazz saxophonist and Hope College professor Dr. Jordan VanHemert has crafted an artistic statement to combat the discrimination he has faced. With a skilled ensemble of mutual friends, musicians and academics, this album serves as a creative outlet to heal painful wounds and to champion multiple cultures. Tracks like “Justice for the Unarmed (BLM)” distill the raw emotions within the BLM protest movement into a musical, whereas “아리랑 Arirang” takes a Korean folk melody and filters it through the jazz lexicon for a completely unique listening experience.
Digging Deeper: Jordan VanHemert’s work on this record — officially being released on March 12 — is something to be admired, from navigating COVID restrictions to facing such tumultuous times with a collaborative spirit yearning to create new art. It’s an album that celebrates a group effort while sonically providing justice to so many marginalized cultures through engaging musical experiences.
Perfect For: Jazz aficionados and music activists alike, those who delight in new listening experiences and seek to support humanity through mindful artistic expression. – Dutcher Snedeker
Listen: “Justice for the Unarmed (BLM)”
What Stands Out: It’s a welcome surprise to hear this kind of sound from a place like Traverse City, a place dressed up in tourist attractions and blanketed by waters littered with the boats of part-time residents who flock to shore to frequent the same boutique stores as full-time residents try and wade through the masses. Goredotcom cuts through the pleasantries and goes right for the heart, pouring their angst and heartache into the scene to carve out their own audience. Many of the tunes drive hard with distorted guitars and up-tempo drums like “True Crime” and “De-Masc” while others open up to wider ranges of soundscapes and emotional peaks like “Walking (R)” and “The Old Gods Haven’t Left This Place…And They Still Grant Power to Those Who Venerate Them.”
Digging Deeper: Beneath the coat of emo-punk paint lies a well-tuned machine in goredotcom, one that dares to drive fast and isn’t afraid to draw attention on the road. This group has a tight, well-defined sound that is ready for any tour, showing the hard work they have already put into this project that begs to be back on stage.
Perfect For: Those long drives after a difficult week, allowing yourself the moment to crank the stereo and release your emotions into the stratosphere. – Dutcher Snedeker
Listen: “True Crime”
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