This mid-September sampling of new local and regional releases offers everything from boundary-pushing folk-punk to socially conscious hip hop. Check out the reviews and listen to the music.
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“Peace of a King 2”
What Stands Out: Not all super heroes wear capes and leap buildings in a single bound. Many of them are fighting — and even dying — to defend their communities and to find peace in a troubled world. And some, like Grand Rapids’ own hip hop powerhouse JRob, are making a statement with their music, as evidenced by “Peace of a King 2” that resonates with political will, muscular beats and some potent messaging, propelled by the track “Black Super Hero,” which relates the “sad story” about mothers worried about their sons being gunned down by the police. “This has gone on too long,” JRob raps. “Welcome to ground zero, you are now rockin’ with a black super hero.” It’s all about “unity, power in numbers, protect what’s yours.” This 14-track collection is also about some of the most compelling, must-listen hip hop Grand Rapids has produced in recent years. It’s melodic, infectious and full of impressive guest spots: Kyle Sullivan’s robust guitar work on “Midwest,” E-Will and Vee Tha Rula on the memorable “Wait a Minute,” Lady Ace Boogie and Lxjend on the soulfully luscious “Who We Are” (which serves as an inspiring model of parenthood).
Digging Deeper: This represents a career milestone record from a Herculean wordsmith — a revealing, wide-ranging, epic project from a “Diamond in the Ruff” (Track 12) that’s really been years in the making. Like any hefty collection leaning on multiple producers, some jarring differences in musical approach emerge from track to track. But on “Peace of King 2” this actually just strengthens this masterwork, providing an eclectic, can’t-wait-to-see-what-comes-next vibe.
Perfect For: Galvanizing positive change in relationships, communities and the world. – John Sinkevics
Upcoming Shows: 9 p.m. Friday (Sept. 20) at The Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids, with Jon Connor, JRob w/ Bedrock, Speedy, Jailyn Allure, Jay Chill and Lady Ace Boogie. (Also, tune into to Local Spins on WYCE 88.1 FM at 11 a.m. Friday when JRob and Mel V of Bedrock will perform as in-studio guests.)
Listen: “Black Super Hero (feat. A1 & Scratches by DJ Composition)
What Stands Out: With “Chatter,” Brother Adams has a lot to say, lyrically, thematically and instrumentally, but perhaps that’s one of its shortcomings. There’s a lot happening on the album. So much, that a handful of brilliant moments don’t find much room to breathe. The record does shine, however, gaining speed with “Momentum,” a hypnotic and rhythmic journey through dreams, morphing musical sections and an enjoyably healthy dose of congas. Continuing with a spirit of irony, the track “Wake Up” may put listeners into a blissful, synth-induced cryo-sleep, before shaking them conscious with gargling gang vocals, harmonica and, yes, heavy metal screams. Other highlights include “Waves,” a breezy jam with cowbell, and “Comfort Kills,” a driving rock number with a roaring final jam.
Digging Deeper: The foundation of “Chatter” is quite strong; there’s serious talent and vision-casting here. The musical transitions are seamless, there’s an eye for storytelling and the instrumentals are tight. Other moments are less refined: Throughout the record, the vocal performances can be overwhelming, both due to an especially wobbly vibrato and a multitude of voices and effects. Some intros/outros are also difficult to comprehend in a broader, cohesive sense with the rest of the album.
Perfect For: A haunted square dance; drifting into a spooky dream-nightmare; bobbing for plastic apples in a barrel of whiskey – Ricky Olmos
Upcoming Shows: Oct. 5 at Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill in Grand Rapids (opening for The Fleshtones)
The Skinny Limbs
What Stands Out: It’s always satisfying to see (and hear) a band making the right musical progress from Album 1 to Album 2, and West Michigan’s The Skinny Limbs have done just that with their sophomore album. Sliding toward a more substantial, indie-rock-hued pop sound that builds on the lighthearted, beach-inspired grooves of the band’s “Sunshine Salute” debut, this fivesome — brothers Max, Jake and Nate Knoth, and Connor and Gavin O’Brien — shows real song-arranging maturation with its uber-catchy tunes (“The Professor,” “Memories,” “I Hate My Phone”), not to mention tight musicianship with perfect guitar and keyboard accents. It’s got national breakout written all over it.
Digging Deeper: Despite its obvious, carefree and upbeat pop lilt, there’s a surprising amount of sophistication and rhythmic complexity to the EP’s six songs, which tackle subjects ranging from romance to “disheartening social trends.” Granted, the retro nature of certain songs — oozing a synthy, ’80s vibe — can be pervasive at times.
Perfect For: Fans of Coin, Japanese House and Early Eyes, as well as those interested in fresh-sounding, buoyant pop. – John Sinkevics
Listen: “The Professor”
Mike Mains & the Branches
“When We Were in Love”
What Stands Out: Mike Mains returned earlier this year with his proverbial (but often actualized) Branches and an album so heart-soaked and haunting, Mains himself must have trekked through a barren, frigid land to unearth such a collection of songs. That is, before soaking them in technicolor layers of sonic paint and blowing them dry with a hopeful whisper. The 11-track album hits its stride with a set of three tracks, starting with “Holy Ghost,” a melodically captivating groove that rides on primal drums and Mains’ fierce timbre. “Around the Corner” uses its bright tone to tastefully submerge one of the album’s more unexpected and unique passages: a building synth fever with a refrain that sees Shannon Mains fervent, double lead vocals before diving into an immersive breakdown. Ringing guitars and reverb-laden drums ensue. “Breathing Underwater” builds on the same potency but with sharper lyrical imagery, a ridiculously handsome bass line and a bewitching reflection of rippling synths.
Digging Deeper: “When We Were in Love” is a living portrait of a tattered, persistent love through its many seasons. The album breathes subtle and simple layers to cast its larger vision. Consequently, the record leaves a bit more wide open sonic space than may have been necessary; it could have employed a wider range of instrumentation or waded into experimental waters. (A brief melodic cameo appears on the track “Fever” during the bridge: Mains mirrors a melody that first appeared in the band’s song “Beneath Water” from 2012’s album “Home.”)
Perfect For: An evening stroll in the glowing half-light; holding hands in a thunderstorm; sipping the best boxed red wine ever on Lake Michigan; blasting “in your stereo.” – Ricky Olmos
Upcoming Shows: Oct. 3 at Musica in Akron, Ohio; Oct. 4 at The Loving Touch in Ferndale
Listen: “Breathing Underwater”
What Stands Out: The new nine-track cover album by experimental “head nod” jazz duo and South Bend natives After Ours is a fun, technically proficient and tastefully crafted must-have for any jazz fusion and/or pop lovers out there. Featuring uber-smooth and almost unrecognizably unique instrumental arrangements of popular tunes like “Toxic” by Britney Spears, “Black Hole Sun” by Sound Garden, and even some Radiohead, this album plays on listener expectations and promptly turns them upside down in the best way.
Digging Deeper: Although technically not a Michigan-based band, After Ours makes its way up to The Mitten enough with shows that most consider them honorary members of the scene here, and this album definitely helps solidify that notion. Some takes are live cuts from shows and others were produced in the studio, which is a format that can often lead to disjointed records with little flow, but not so with “Random Nuggets.” Each song effortlessly holds it own yet transitions to the next with style and substance.
Perfect For: Fans of experimental jazz and pop fusion, hip cocktail parties, and late-night drives into the city. – Megan Dooley
Listen: “Black Hole Sun”
Upcoming Shows: Sept. 26 at Founders Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids; Nov. 23 at the South Bend Civic Theater in South Bend
Copyright 2019, Spins on Music LLC