Grand Rapids rock duo Simien the Whale topped all contenders for Spins on Music’s best album of the year award with a brilliantly catchy and diverse self-titled album.
Every band’s journey to music’s promised land takes a slightly different tack, with unexpected twists and turns, chance encounters, inspiring moments.
Simien the Whale’s self-titled, full-length 2012 album is no different, with the story behind the lush and eclectic, pop-laced rock project dating back more than a dozen years to the day when Zachary Guy and Tory Peterson first played together in The Jim Crawford Band.
Even after parting ways for a time to pursue other musical projects, the bass player and guitarist seemed destined to reconnect, eventually forming Simien the Whale in 2006 – and starting to write some of the songs that ultimately would find their way onto the 10-track CD the duo spent two years recording at Grand Rapids’ Mackinaw Harvest Music.
The countless hours of labor and attention to detail paid off: “Simien the Whale” is Spins on Music’s Local Spin of the Year, selected as the best recording of 2012 from more than 100 local and regional albums considered for the honor.
Simien the Whale’s self-described “break-beat” rock dazzles throughout this album, deftly incorporating pop, funk and hip-hop rhythms, prog-rock, psychedelia and special effects, from the airy-but-catchy opening track “Always Something Easier” to the bass-driven, proggy “SHFB” (one of my picks for grooviest song of 2012) to the infectious, vocally charming “Bend Not Break.” It’s intricate, guitar-propelled rock with smart, accessible hooks.
As “a pop record,” Peterson says the duo wanted to ensure that the vocals were up front in songs that could stand alone but would also “flow together really well” as an album. That they do, with a singular soulfulness perhaps honed from late bar nights playing covers of “Play that Funky Music” and “Tell Me Something Good,” melded with influences ranging from The Beatles to ’90s rock.
That it works so well – building on an EP the band had released earlier in its history – is testament to the gregarious duo’s skillful arranging and musicianship , especially considering the band used different drummers in the studio (Greg Liceraga, Peter Muskiewicz) while recording the album produced by Michael Crittenden.
And fans will be pleased to note the Grand Rapids-based Simien the Whale already is plotting more musical projects in 2013, perhaps a series of shorter releases or “a collection of singles.”
For now, however, Peterson, 31, and Guy, 30, are pleased to hail their Local Spin of the Year award, partly because Simien the Whale’s late November CD release apparently missed the nominating deadline for WYCE-FM’s much-ballyhooed Jammie Awards, to be unveiled at The Intersection on Feb. 22. On the plus side, that means there won’t be any doubling up of Jammie and Local Spin of the Year honors as has been the case twice before (Drew Nelson, The Crane Wives).
“We have always worked hard at our music to make the best we could make, but we never expected recognition like this,” Guy says. “It’s an honor to be chosen and we hope that we can continue to make great music.”
I presented the first Local Spin of the Year Award to Bless You Boys in 2007. Since that time, The Mighty Narwhale, Drew Nelson, Ralston Bowles, The New Midwest, The Fuzzrites and The Crane Wives have earned Local Spins honors for their recordings.
To purchase Simien the Whale’s award-winning CD and learn more about the band, visit its official website at simienthewhale.com.
About the Local Spin of the Year: Suffice to say, picking the best out of a primo crop of 2012 releases by local and regional artists is a challenge beyond challenges, especially with bracing studio compilations uncorked by The Soil & The Sun, Garrett Borns, The Outer Vibe, Delilah DeWylde & The Lost Boys, The Real Lazy Genius, The Legal Immigrants, The Jukejoint Handmedowns, Potato Moon, The Koh Kohs, Lucas Wilson, The Concussions, An Dro, AG Silver, Kelsey Rottiers, Wealthy Orphans, Karisa Wilson, Roger MacNaughton and many more top-notch artists and emerging acts who’ve turned West Michigan into one of the most vibrant and important music scenes in the nation.
My own rules: Previous winners aren’t eligible, so fine releases from the likes of singer-songwriter Drew Nelson (“Tilt-A-Whirl”) and The Crane Wives (“The Fool in Her Wedding Gown”) were recognized in Local Spins reviews but won’t be collecting hardware. Albums I received in 2012 but not officially released until 2013 weren’t considered. And while EPs have become increasingly popular, I also reserve Local Spin of the Year honors for full-length albums, which unfortunately exempted terrific efforts by up-and-coming new acts such as AOK, The Kari Lynch Band and others.
Oh, and I can’t review or evaluate albums that I don’t hear, which means bands with new releases should email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for submission instructions.