After an insanely busy summer, Local Spins is back with a batch of reviews of 2022 releases by Michigan artists, from dark rock to folk to Gypsy swing to jam-band glory and beyond.
We’re the first to admit, we’re way behind.
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Due to an extended, insanely busy summer of concerts, festivals and musical hubbub of all manner and form, Local Spins ditched its usual regimen of regularly posted reviews of releases by Michigan artists.
But those round-ups are back starting today, with a look at a diverse set of 2022 albums to stimulate your ears and get your head bobbing. Scroll down to listen to tracks from each of the featured albums and stay tuned for more reviews in coming weeks.
“As We Unravel”
What Stands Out: This may be its full-length debut, but Lokella – a genre-bending rock band from Grand Rapids – long ago discovered its signature sound. Dark and heavy bass, hauntingly melodic guitar, strong percussion and ethereal vocals make them undeniably recognizable. The occasional addition of keys is an exciting detour, slowing things down and bringing an eerie lightness. The record is full of emotion and passion; tackling difficult topics such as religion (and the hypocrisy it carries), death and self-sabotage.
Digging Deeper: It’s only appropriate that the record begins with a roast by Kendall Joseph, a good friend and fellow musician to the Lokella crew. He calls their music “ill performed,”complains that the guitarist, Chris, “lacks creativity” and is clearly “weak in the fingers.” He even goes so far as to say that they need to work on their syncopation. A continuing joke between the friends. Lyrics such as “You won’t change the world with silence / When they force it all with violence” from “Opt-In” seem to take issue with religion and how dangerous it can be: the hypocrisy that we see in religious beliefs versus how those religious people act. It’s a reminder that we must speak up for what we believe. “Mouthbreathers,” meanwhile, comes in heavy. Featuring Fedaykin’s vocalist, James Barbour, this song explores a heavier side to Lokella. “Just Nineteen” showcases electric harmonies between Emilee Petersmark (of the Crane Wives) and Jennifer Bartlett with a dancy breakdown to wrap it up. Overall, the album makes a powerful statement on the current social climate, while also bringing something new to the table, musically.
Perfect For: Jumping into a mosh pit and fighting the system. – Chelsea Whitaker
Upcoming Shows: Oct. 7 at The Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids (with Barrel Bones, You and Them, Volitionary)
What Stands Out: The instrumental prowess of this Ann Arbor quartet, with two guitars, bass and clarinet, and their sense of melody, even while improvising.
Digging Deeper: While paying homage to the sound of Gypsy jazz (the name, you know), this recording includes some surprises. Those include “Just A Gigolo,” recorded by a host of performers, including the 1956 hit by Louis Prima and David Lee Roth’s over the top version in 1985. Here the band’s mournful reading is highlighted by Tyler Rindo’s clarinet. Then there’s “Funk 39,” a reimagining of Django Reinhardt’s “Swing 39” that boasts some of the zestiness of Joe Walsh’s “Funk 49.” And don’t forget “On The Road Again” – yes, the Willie Nelson staple – which the band transforms from a loping country git-along to a jazzy getdown. The tunes are all fairly brief, with only “Funk 39” checking in at more than four and a half minutes, yet the quartet packs each one full of melody, harmony and fun. Overall it’s not so much hot jazz as it is good-time swing. A finger-picking good time.
Perfect For: Demonstrating how certain styles still retain their appeal, even after nearly a century. – Ross Boissoneau
Upcoming Shows: Nov. 3 at Pemberville Opera House in Pemberville, Ohio; Nov. 19 at Modale Wines in Fennville
Listen: “Just a Gigolo”
The Accidentals with The Kaboom Collective
What Stands Out: From the moment the orchestra enters 21 seconds into the recording, it’s clear this is a true collaboration. The arrangements seamlessly integrate the additional strings and winds into The Accidentals’ sound without ever overwhelming it.
Digging Deeper: What goes around comes around. Accidentals mainstays Sav Buist and Katie Larson met in orchestra class in high school in 2011 when they volunteered for a project together. Since then, the Traverse City band they founded (which added percussionist Michael Dause in 2014) has toured the country, contributed to soundtracks and compilations, collaborated with numerous musicians, and released several albums and EPs. Now they’ve joined forces with a Cleveland-area student orchestra, one with some serious chops and songwriting and production cred beyond their years. Sound familiar? Buist and Larson’s music has been given added layers. The opening “Mangrove” is a delight, while the gentle “Eastern Standard Time” benefits from the string swells, as does “Cityview.” Their voices mesh perfectly with the larger-scale backing, while the new arrangements reveal what great songwriters they are.
Perfect For: Those who like to spice up the familiar with some added orchestral punch. Yes, it’s a rock tradition dating back to “Days of Future Past,” or more accurately ELP’s and Yes’s tours with orchestra. But here it’s not in service of pompous progressive rock, but tunes originally drawing from folk, indie and classical influences. And it works. – Ross Boissoneau
Upcoming Shows: Sept. 30 Sisters Folk Festival, Sisters, Oregon; Nov. 8, I Voted Festival (webcast)
The Wild Honey Collective
“The Wild Honey Collective Vol. 2”
What Stands Out: Maybe the vocals, with four of the five full-time members switching up leads and backgrounds. Or perhaps it’s the instrumental backing, with all manner of stringed instruments, plus some keyboards and percussion. Nope, it’s the way the group and guests meld it all together into a vintage sound reminiscent of the back woods.
Digging Deeper: The quintet formed as a back porch acoustic music group two years ago, and still holds true to that tradition with a few additions – like “Across the Ocean” with its pub-rock sound harkening back to outfits from the early British new wave, such as Brinsley Schwarz, though it’s doubtful the Brinsleys ever featured accordion. There’s twang aplenty, as on “There Goes My Love,” and you can almost hear the train whistles on “Ode To Thor.” Don’t miss its shouted chorus vocals (hint: you can’t). The fun ultimately ends with an ode to “The Red-Headed Boy,” all of a minute-and-a-half long.
Perfect For: Those longing for the high, lonesome sound of decades gone by. If the string and folk music of Appalachia moves you, you need this recording. – Ross Boissoneau
Listen: “There Goes My Love”
“Rays of Light and Stardust”
What Stands Out: With “Rays of Light and Stardust,” popular Grand Rapids jam band Desmond Jones creates a vibrant record that defies genre, incorporating elements of rock, funk, country and jazz. It’s loosely tied together by a space theme, although many songs, such as the yearning-for-autumn “Sweater Weather,” deviate from this. While the album’s vocals are by no means an afterthought, the instruments — typically saxophone, guitar, bass and drums, although orchestral instruments are often included — are the real stars of the show: “The Chase,” for instance, has no vocals at all. The record spans a range of moods, from lively songs like “Hive Mind” to the more melancholy “Anyhow.” But one thing is for sure: It’s never boring.
Digging Deeper: At many points, “Rays of Light and Stardust” feels almost otherworldly — and appropriately so, given its theme. It’s a feeling best encapsulated by the album’s opening and closing songs. Opener and first single “Poor Sylvester” is a bold anthem that almost echoes the Decemberists’ “The Hazards of Love” in its fairytale-esque quality. The album ends with the likewise unearthly “Shadow of Venus,” a masterful demonstration of Desmond Jones’ versatility. The lengthy song, which spans over seven minutes, oscillates between many moods — almost as if this one song is its own orchestral suite, with several different movements. Perhaps the most marked shift occurs just past the six-minute mark: with the lyric “as we dance around the sun,” the music suddenly transforms from slow to upbeat and groovy. The song’s final moments are bizarre, funny and eminently fitting for the album as a whole.
Perfect For: Fans of Frank Zappa and Weird Al, according to the band’s website. – Katie Rosendale
Upcoming Shows: Sept. 30 at Founders Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids; Oct. 6 at Flour City Station in Rochester, NY; Oct. 29 at The Parliament Room at Otus Supply in Ferndale
Listen: “Poor Sylvester”
What Stands Out: “Reset,” the latest release by Grand Rapids-based instrumentalist Jeremy Ensley, is an experimental album characterized by swelling waves of sound and a constant pulse of energy, even as the songs range from relaxed and atmospheric to starker and more aggressive. The record in its entirety contains a grand total of five words: the distorted phrase “you like music or what?” in the initial track, “Bismuth,” which is quickly engulfed by a purer exploration of music. “Reset” is thematically held together as a vibrant exploration of the world — from the depths below, with “Nadir” and “Fathoms,” to the sprawling heavens above, with “Aether” and “Sursum.”
Digging Deeper: “Nadir” is easily the album’s most dynamic track. The song’s title refers to the point on the celestial sphere directly below the observer. Fittingly, then, its beginning is rich and wholly atmospheric, masterfully evoking the occasional twinkling of a star against a dark sky. But then the song shifts: Ensley introduces an unearthly chorus and adds strong, rhythmic elements. Eventually, these more aggressive elements fade out, but the chorus in the background remains — a somewhat unsettling conclusion that almost calls to mind images of aliens.
Perfect For: Staring up at the stars, walking along the shore on a cloudy day and exploring the depths of your own mind. – Katie Rosendale
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