This November round-up features new releases by several acclaimed Michigan artists, covering diverse music hatched in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Allegan and beyond.
Most of us find it hard to believe we’re already well into November.
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Of course, that means the holidays are fast approaching and there’s nothing more meaningful than doling out Michigan-bred music to the folks on your shopping lists — or at least, sharing links to compelling tracks by diverse bands and singer-songwriters.
Here are a half-dozen local and regional artists with new releases to get you started. Check out more Local Spins album reviews here.
What Stands Out: Michigan native Sufjan Stevens returns with “Javelin,” and unlike the ancient tool of war, this album only seeks to pierce the cold, dreary season with tracks shaped into a comforting point. Intimate, near-whispered vocals at times are accompanied by a solid foundation of keyboard and synths sounds, acoustic instruments and cascading layers that soak into your soul. Each tune begs for audience participation, with choruses filled with infectious hooks that delight in an ever-increasing ensemble of voices and instruments. After so many years, Sufjan Stevens continues to evolve and share his unique experiences, observations and witticisms with audiences around the world.
Digging Deeper: This record flows effortlessly from one track to the next — as one track says a fond farewell, the next one is welcomed with open arms and attentive ears. Fans of mellow music dotted with soaring textures will have this on repeat along with production nerds combing every strummed guitar for new insights. Buried within these cinematic moments in the lyricism are a wide range of emotions and commentary, a beautiful blending of ideas to create a great soundtrack for fall listening. “Javelin” is less a direct shot to the system and more a slow spreading of infectious joy, one that spills over long after the album has finished.
Perfect For: A cozy, fall afternoon sipping tea by the rain-soaked window sill. – Dutcher Snedeker
Listen: “So You Are Tired”
What Stands Out: From the first measure of this album, Black Milk creates a listening experience that leads to a resounding “yes!” from start to finish. This album sells itself from the jump as Black Milk flows effortlessly over some of Detroit’s finest artists grooving so strongly to the beat of the culture. Each tune has a distinct flavor from the instrumentation to the type of lyricism and flow from the additional emcees, making for a wonderfully diverse listening experience steeped in creative expression.
Digging Deeper: Experience may be a teacher to Black Milk’s excellence, but with that wisdom comes the desire to continue working with artists from all backgrounds and disciplines. One glance at the liner notes on his Bandcamp page and you can see everyone from young artists like Ian Finkelstein and Sasha Kashperko to mainstays of the scene like Karriem Riggins and Quelle alongside the talents of Raphael Saadiq and Phonte. Musicians will love this record, from the instrument tones to the genres that flavor the flows to solid production throughout. Treat yourself to a quality slice of hip-hop culture and find yourself lost in the head-nod suite.
Perfect For: Hip-hop fans of all generations that want to share an album just as you would a meal. – Dutcher Snedeker
Listen: “Is It Just Me?”
Kitten & The Tonics
What Stands Out: This Allegan-based surf rock band recorded its EP at Kalamazoo’s La Luna Recording & Sound with no cool-weather remnants. Instead, it has all summer vibes, a rolling Kitten & The Tonics’ sound set apart from other surf rock by a hollow tone that almost inspires spookiness. It’s not artificially perky and feels much more genuine than other surf rock; still relaxing, but without a campy wink, just serious.
Digging Deeper: Each track is simple but never bland. The eponymous “Painkiller” is the standout, with a sweet-tasting, interesting and groovy vibe. It begins with a refreshing and airy sip that breaks into a sway alternating between high and low, fast and slow. Where some surf rock can seem repetitive, each Kitten & The Tonics track boasts differently textured sections. The lead Kitten’s orchestral bass lends a wizened depth balanced by higher harmonies or, in “Secret Tiki,” atmospheric bird sound effects suiting the mood. While all instrumental, the songs never feel monotonous or boring.
Perfect For: Envisioning a nice warm place when reality is chilly. – Cassandra Kipp
Upcoming Show: Dec. 2 at The Sugar Bowl Bar & Grille in Kalamazoo.
Wills Piff & Samil
“Lineage of the Cloth”
What Stands Out: “Lineage of The Cloth” showcases the combined talents of local Grand Rapids hip-hop artists Wills Piff and Samil, a partnership that has blossomed in the last few years since their first album collaboration on “The Cusp of Exposure.” Wasting no sonic real estate, each of the 14 tracks brims with stories of hardship from the past, self awareness and the desire to transform the present, with a recognition of the progress that unites the West Michigan hip-hop scene. The beats are well-seasoned, dripping with flavor and seared with fiery lyricism to serve listeners in perfect portions. It’s a well-prepared dish that brings together the area’s hip-hop community to share verses and experiences around the table.
Digging Deeper: Hip hop is so much more than a fond memory from the older generation or aesthetics often co-opted by celebrities and pop stars: It is a living slice of history. We see the buildings going up around downtown, oftentimes revealing a last gasp of Grand Rapids history before it becomes a homogenized beer garden for the corporate world to open another event space. But if you peel back the veneer and look into the pulse of the city, you’ll find artists such ase these working tirelessly to capture moments in time while uplifting their community through honest, polished production and talent. Wills Piff and Samil have made “Lineage of The Cloth” a collection to reflect upon, a snapshot in time that listeners will learn from as the head-nod takes over their system.
Perfect For: Anyone who has yet to explore Grand Rapids’ hip hop, especially if you enjoy well-versed emcees flowing effortlessly over some of the area’s most solid production. – Dutcher Snedeker
Website: Wills Piff – https://willspiff.bandcamp.com
Samil – https://www.loopfiction.net/
Listen: “Extra Mile” (feat. Mikey The Don)
What Stands Out: “Do You Know” lights up the Feeding Grizzlies’ latest studio project from the outset with the sort of rapid-fire, instantly infectious alt-rock that represents much of what this Grand Rapids band is all about. But lest the listener mistakenly assume that “Peaceful Dissonance” is a one-trick pony, think again. The band’s follow-up to 2021’s “The Wash” shows off a maturing, more expansive and thoughtful approach to songwriting and arranging, enhanced by psychedelic textures and fetching vocals.
Digging Deeper: Band members Grant VanderKallen, Jackson Ritter, Matt Zuby and Lorenzo Aguayo Jr. seamlessly meld elements of classic rock, punk, pop and more into their cleverly crafted alternative rock, without ever losing the edginess that drives tracks such as “Go” and “Turn to Animals.”
Perfect For: That Friday afternoon, anticipatory, the-weekend-is-coming feeling of elation. – John Sinkevics
Upcoming Show: Nov. 17 at The Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids with The American Hotel System and Low Phase
Listen: “Turn to Animals”
“The News From Where You Live”
What Stands Out: Defining just what Free Hat does can be an exercise in futility. The Grand Rapids band quite literally refuses to be pigeonholed with its jazz-meets-rock-meets-spaciness-meets-jaunty-romps-meets-sondtrack-worthy-instrumentals. Indeed, the third track, “Getting Weird,” sort of says it all, emphasizing the group’s proclivity for humor that winds its way through tracks such as “Blue Car,” “Devil Music” and, yes, “I Long for the Days When Long Song Titles Were All the Rage.”
Digging Deeper: Dave Doud, Joleen Rumsey, Sean Mullen, Ryan Eardley and Lauren Howard Davis recorded this 12-track affair at Guerilla Studios and Amber Lit Audio, taking full advantage of robust special effects, dreamy intros and all sorts of sonic charm.
Perfect For: The esoteric, playful side of your psyche. – John Sinkevics
Upcoming Show: 7 p.m. Friday (Nov. 10) at The Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids with Odd Space and Empress Eyes
Listen: “Street Fightin'”
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