The mid-January roundup of releases features the brand new, long-awaited full-length debut by Melophobix and five other Michigan gems. Read the reviews, listen to tracks from the featured artists.
The first batch of Local Spins album reviews for 2019 boasts a robust lineup of acts, starting with the much-anticipated, long-awaited full-length debut album by Grand Rapids funk/rock/reggae band Melophobix, plus a band — Heavy Color –– that held the top spot on the Local Spins Hot Top 5 chart for radio airplay on WYCE at the end of 2018.
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The roundup also features reviews of new recordings by West Michigan’s Deepfall, The Ryne Experience and Justin Wierenga.
Check out all the releases, find out where these acts are playing and listen to tracks from all of the featured artists.
“Seatbelts” is the perfect opening track for “Cage-Free.” Not only should listeners “keep their seatbelts fastened at all times” (as suggested by the lyrics) for the wild and winsome ride of rock, funk, ska and reggae marshalled by Melophobix via the full-length “Cage-Free,” but the song signals the sort of well-crafted, solidly arranged material that’s quickly made this popular Grand Rapids live band a West Michigan force to be reckoned with. Stefan Schwartz (vocals, guitar), Zack Volkers (guitar), Adam Parada (piano), Matt McElliott (bass), Nate Hansen (saxophone), Geoff Hansen (trumpet) and Scotty King (drums) already have proven their mettle as a tight party band, something showcased in jaunty fashion on tracks such as “Waves” and “Get Over It.” But with “Cage-Free” – recorded at Third Coast Recording in Grand Haven – they also establish themselves definitively as soulful songsmiths, deftly weaving intricate harmonies and horn arrangements into smartly constructed pop and R&B gems (“Insufficient Funds,” “Wax Wings,” “A Lot to Learn”) about triumphs, tragedies, longing and love. Through it all, “Cage-Free” resonates with infectious vitality, vintage soul and newly minted gnarliness. – John Sinkevics
Upcoming Show: Jan. 24 at 20 Monroe Live in Grand Rapids (with Sublime with Rome, Tropidelic)
Listen: “Get Over It”
Listen/Watch: “Seatbelts” (Semi-Acoustic, Local Spins on WYCE)
When the Toledo-area band, Heavy Color, was elected by Michigan’s Earthwork Music collective as musical ambassadors to the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, something magical aligned. “River Passage” is the culmination of a joint collaboration between Heavy Color’s duo Benjamin Cohen and Sam Woldenberg and the exotic, melodious tunes of various Congolese musicians. The blisswave/psychedelic/Afrobeats sound Heavy Color is known for can be heard throughout the album, but the band has blended it masterfully with the stories, struggles, passions and culture of the Congolese people. Each track has a certain unfiltered rawness and beauty to it. “Temple on A Hill” transports listeners to an actual village in the Congo’s. The sounds of Congolese children bantering, layered under the futuristic Afrobeats and enhanced by the harmonious singing of village women, creates an atmosphere that can only be called calming. “Hidden Kingdom” is a gem like its name describes. The track features Congolese musician Thomas Lusango, whose earthy vocals combined with Heavy Color’s fresh electronic beats offers up a feast for the ears. “River Passage” is not just an album, it’s a statement. Sales from this album will help “fund projects in Congo that directly support gender equity and fair wages for women in farming regions as well as the ongoing support of an arts center in the city Bukavu which teaches youth dance, recording technology skills and music lessons in an all around positive, safe space.” – Matthew Tep
Upcoming Shows:Feb. 8 for the WYCE Jammie Awards at The Intersection in Grand Rapids; Feb. 9 for an album-release show at The Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids; Feb. 10 at The Little Fleet in Traverse City
Listen: “Temple on A Hill”
This debut release from Greenville band Deepfall is a creative concoction that blurs the lines between hard rock and metal. Listeners might think they know what they’re in for when they hear the pounding opening guitars of “Wasted,” but it quickly becomes clear that this album is more than just a straightforward riff-fest (which still would’ve been enjoyable). It paints a picture of a dedicated rock band finding its voice. At times, it recalls the dramatic, soaring choruses of early 2000s post-grunge rock bands such as Shinedown; at others, it invokes the heavier spirit of Avenged Sevenfold or the catchier pop sensibility of Three Days Grace and Breaking Benjamin. Several searing guitar solos make the record stand out from other contemporary hard rock acts, and vocalist Rich Hopkins tactfully pairs rough yet melodic rock vocals with the occasional scream to push the band into heavier territory. “Out of Line” puts drummer Jim Sully in the spotlight, and it showcases a band effortlessly communicating on the same wavelength through various rhythmic changes. Songs like “M.F.K.S. (Voice of the Broken)” broaden the sonic landscape a bit with eerie synths and a full-fledged metal breakdown, with Hopkins even throwing in a few growls before launching into the final chorus. The lyrics feel ambiguous yet deeply personal throughout, playing a major role in tracks such as “Ghost,” which masquerades as an acoustic ballad before launching into what’s easily the heaviest track on the album. One day, these guys might be touring the nation, but for now, they’re carving their own path in the rock world – and who knows how far that might take them. – Devin Dely
Upcoming Show: Jan. 26 at Rubble’s Bar in Mt. Pleasant.
Ryne Clark of Lowell’s The Preservers steps out on his own for the debut record “Hokey” with The Ryne Experience. Although primarily a solo project, Ryne makes sure to credit the 22 collaborators who helped him bring his collection of dreamy, hypnotic rock songs to life. The tracks range drastically in style, lyrics and attitude, but still seem to flow into each other like changing seasons. Ryne incorporates different sounds and elements: the cello, electric kazoo, banjo, accordion and even dialogue. Without even hearing the lyrics in the third track, “In Line,” the sunshine can be felt in the bright electric guitar and well-placed harmonies. The same can be said for “Blue,” the simplicity and longing vocals alluding to the low vibes of the color blue. The album was produced and engineered by Ryne himself with help from the band. The experience ends with the heartbreaker, “Your Sweet Love,” leaving you wanting to start the dream that is “Hokey” all over again. – Liv Conaty
Upcoming Show: 3 p.m. Sunday (Jan 20) at Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill in Grand Rapids with The Tube Socks
Listen: “Your Sweet Love”
“Walking Like He Knows Something”
Hit play on Justin Wierenga’s new album “Walking Like He Knows Something” and the album title seems more than apropos: Wierenga definitely knows something. Wierenga, usually a sideman for many West Michigan artists, knows how to make a distinct and skilled instrumental album. “Marshville” is the album’s strolling intro, with a gentle guitar leading into “The Wizard’s Bag,” an at-times disorienting but surprising and amusing song. The album continues to carry this sporadic quality throughout and, overall, is pure, plotted mayhem. Each song lends itself to the next, sometimes flowing seamlessly between two different tracks without detection. Still, each song has its own energy, sound and chaotic twist. A notable track, “Fresh Dirt,” one of the least intense roller-coaster songs, moves from slow, almost meditative rock into a full, rapid production with various instruments, yet never takes on the same push for attention like “I’ll Have My Own Coffee, Thanks.” Wierenga manages to piece together and execute these songs in a way that makes them sound like more than just a hodgepodge of creative improvisation. The album’s closing – and shortest – track, “Marshville Fireflies,” picks up the tone of “Marshville,” and leaves listeners feeling quite like walking up to their own house after a long, crazy, whirlwind day. – Olivia Menchaca
Upcoming Show: Thursday (Jan. 17) at Rockford Brewing Co. in Rockford
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