Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bandcamp Round-Up #1: Skimming A Few Favorites, For Your Ears

Rather than yet another post of blah blah blah my music/my art blah blah blah, I thought I'd close out the month with a collection of links to some great music by ITAV's extended network of friends, collaborators, and just some other musicians we admire.  The mission here has always been bigger than self-promotion, but a feeling can set in that if you don't blow your own horn, no one will -- so you get caught in a self-serving cycle that, while it seems necessary (and probably is), also gets stale to readers, fans, and followers.  So this week, we are going to blow other peoples' horns!

Wipe that ridiculous smirk off your face, and check out some of the great sounds we've stumbled across over the past few months!  Some of it's free, some of it's pay-what-you-will, and some of it is modestly priced -- if you're in a position to be generous, please be.  If not, you can stream it all and get to know some great musicians on their own terms.

1.  PRUSSIA - "Poor English, Parts 1-3"

Released in 3 separate parts, on limited edition 10-inch vinyl for those of you looking for fetish objects, Detroit-based band Prussia delivers the remarkable "Poor English," an album that marries simplicity and grandeur in a wholly novel way that should appeal to fans of Michigan indie-folk as well as appreciators of the more baroque end of the indie spectrum (think Arcade Fire, in terms of scope, or Anathallo if you're trying to stay more geographic).  An expansive work that isn't short on filigree but remains solidly rooted in great songcraft, this album has the added visual excitement of some beautiful cover art (check out all 3 10-inches!), something we are suckers for; a nice blend of Victorian woodcuts and 60s op-art that hints at the romanticism and pragmatism that are shotgun-wed with this nicely-conceived, composition-driven musical triptych.


TH!TTG! is a band that we've been fans of for a long time -- their song "Angry. Vengeful" was a memorable track off our first-ever ITAV release (the awkwardly titled First-Hand Accounts, Theories, And Their Repercussions compilation... hey, awkward titles were very of the zeitgeist in 2006!).  Their album "An Army Life" is not to be missed.  Initially a fearsome duo consisting of David Martin and Joseph Patrick Scott (of White Pines, Canada, and Cotton Jones), TH!TTG!'s gravitational center was the unflinchingly honest songwriting of Martin and the multi-instrumental/production savior faire of Scott.  On the THTTG E.P., it seems like it's almost entirely Martin's show, and he's definitely risen to the occasion, giving us the Bill Callahan/Smog-inflected "Hurricane Isaac" (that's his new son Isaac pictured on the cover) along with the liberally profane yet reassuringly anthemic "Retreated Out West" (which barely misses an opportunity for a certain adjective that starts with "F").  The harmonies and swells are all in place, the pacing is perfect, Martin's worldview isn't so much unforgiving as it is uncompromising, and the somber horns of "The Pentecostal" and the lullabye version of "Michigan June" carry us away on a downy cloud that clearly exists no matter how high we have to reach or how long we have to look to find it.

3.  GNOME VILLAGE - "Space, Silk, & Schizophrenia"

My own band Stargrazer had the pleasure of playing several shows with Gnome Village this past summer, and to categorize them as unpredicatable or to label them as a "jam band" is, I feel, to miss the point by miles.  There's something darker and more avant garde buried in the extended improvisations that comprise their live show and their extensive recorded catalog -- the two become inseparable really, a blur of vintage guitar tones and classic rock-fueled brinksmanship that can leave you breathless, or exhilarated, or exhausted.  "Space, Silk, & Schizophrenia" is one of my favorites of theirs, edited and collaged from live tapes of a July show at Lansing's somewhat hidden music spot, The Loft.  "SS&S" catches the band in a melodic and driving space that makes me think of Dungen, more than just a little.  But it's less self-conscious and a lot wilder, seemingly unconcerned with being warm and fuzzy enough for the hippies or abrasive enough for the indie and punk kids.  It is quite possible that this band just likes to wail, and invite adventurous souls along for the ride.

4.  FIONA DICKINSON - "Duende" 

I was supposed to play a show with Fiona Dickinson, but she had to cancel due to illness, which bummed me out because I was quite excited to see her set.  Her album "Duende" is a rich dark tapestry of atmosphere that underpins some very evocative songwriting and a beautiful alto voice she uses to wring incredible pathos out of each line.  The sounds are lush and cinematic, yet created with simple elements: voices, bells, reed organ, piano, guitar.  The British-born singer resides in Northern Michigan, and the landscape of the beautiful and sometimes bleak, windswept lakeshore seems indelibly stitched into her arrangements.  This is a wholly lovely, occasionally terrifying album that should not be missed.

5.  NEW VENICE - "Movements 1-6" 

Post-hardcore trio New Venice has been releasing two-song "Movements," like wrenchingly frank salvos of emotional shorthand, since September.  Much like 45-rpm singles of yesteryore, these concise bursts cycle by in a few short moments, bursting with coiling guitars and punctuated rhythms, the vocals released with barely-restrained (and sometimes unrestrained, unhinged) aggression that belies the carefully constructed, almost poetic shorthand of the songs' lyrical bones.  New Venice can be icy and detached one moment, boiling magma the next.  The careful construction of the songs is balanced against the careening, headlong rush of the performances.  Is it hopeful or apocalyptic?  I'm not sure, but it is bracing and immediate and I want to hear it again.

6.  ALAN SCHEURMAN - "Old Patterns"

In 2008, Alan "Santiparro" Scheurman (formerly of the great band Rescue) released his first official solo album, "Old Patterns," produced and engineered by one Warren Defever at Detroit's UFO Factory.  If you've talked music with me, you know I idolize Defever's on-again-off-again band His Name Is Alive -- but that has very little to do with why I like "Old Patterns" so much.  Scheurman's humble delivery can't hide his stupendous ability to create floating, uplifting pop song structures; and this solo album is a crazy quilt of thrilling understatements.  Since then he's relocated to Brooklyn, traveled across South and Central America and embraced shamanic spirituality, while continuing to release impressive music, but this more conventional (by comparison), more personal offering remains my favorite.


Oklahoma-born musician Dan Pehachek (a.k.a. Double Saginaw Familiarity) is a singer-songwriter drawing more from indie rock than from folk, although his ability to perform with simply guitar and voice might tempt some to utilize that loaded f-word when describing him.  It was great to get to know Dan during his time at Michigan State University, where he became one of my favorite voices on the local scene.  With the great "Summer Night, Winter Night" album under his belt, he set out to put some demos to tape for its follow-up.  The results, in my opinion, are album-worthy in and of themselves.  I was honored to have Dan use one of my paintings for artwork for this excellent non-album.  I can't wait to hear how these songs evolve.

Monday, October 24, 2011

My Message is Unimportant: the Transfigura Collages

In a little bit of a departure from your usual ITAV blog post, this week's takes a detour into the strictly visual realm.  Lacking a proper official online outlet for my art right now, I wanted to share the first five pieces of an ongoing digital collage/photo-illustration series I've been working on for the last couple weeks.  You can click the images for a larger view, if you are inclined.

When I was younger I used to make collages in my art classes, and the most frequent material to cut up and rubber cement back together was catalogs and old National Geographics.  I've tried to approach this series with the same general parameters, only with Google image search as my toolbox -- starting with some sort of fashion image and then building up elements from nature around it.  Although the results look quasi-spiritual, atavistic, or even hallucinatory, I think what I'm going for is a visual representation of creative release.  Especially the outpouring of creative ideas that can be inspired by encounters with the natural world: order, chaos, decay, the persistence of life of all kinds, the inevitability of death.  Without all those processes in constant flux, art would be impossible.

I also wanted to consciously make something that is approachable for a wide variety of people; thus the colorful aspect, clean lines (mimicking an x-acto blade digitally as much as I can), and juxtaposition of easily identified elements.  The payload is buried in the trendy headscarves and parkas that erupt in various colorful ways; the catalyst is often something flawed yet orderly (i.e. titanium-coated quartz crystals) that may have some religious/mystical baggage but that are ultimately derived from the simple elements of nature and time.  My message is unimportant.  These are deliberately open to interpretation.

At the end of the day, these are a good way for me to hone my Photoshop skills.  I've always tried to use the software in a painterly way, and steer clear of it's more obvious filters and effects.  I like to push its limitations, and in the process I often discover it's lesser known capabilities -- much like my approach to playing bass.  I have many more of these Transfigura collages planned, but I wanted to give an early glimpse of them, maybe gather some feedback.

Another parameter I've set is not so much a time limit, as an effort limit.  When these are done, they're done; usually after 2-3 hours of work.  Any roughness becomes part of the finished product, and I move on.  It can be difficult for someone who will laboriously apply 8-10 alternating layers of polymer gloss and matte medium to a painting just to get the right "beeswaxy" lustre to walk away from something that could easily be worked and re-worked and obsessed over, but the point of these collages is not to be precious about the details.  Working quickly, and with prefab imagery, I have to make intuitive decisions and respect that they are final.  It's good for me.

One way or another, my findings from this series will work their way into the cover art and fliers I make, though I usually trend more towards the Blue Note aesthetic.  I've always seen art and music as a continuum rather than as separate creative compartments.  I also think that some of the more accidental, improvisatory moments of making these can translate into confident musical decision-making.  Ever since I incurred some sort of repetitive stress/tendonitis injury on my left arm this past spring I've been working on looseness and fluidity in my music-making -- and breaking old patterns.

I think I'll get out the actual knives and glue at some point, once I've fully codified where this series is ultimately headed.  And for those of you who remember drop-in collage nights at Scene Metrospace (circa 2006), how about reviving that -- even if the venue is just someone's living room?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

3-Way Singles Club Volume 6 Takes To The Air!

As the air turns crisp, and the leaves curl and color and pool on the ground; as the last note of New Venice's "Breathers" (from Volume 5) still hangs in the air, 3-Way Singles Club Volume 6 arrives, featuring brand new, unreleased songs by Drunken Barn Dance, Flatfoot, and Sleeping Timmy & Aly Rose!

Flatfoot and DBD easily took the "best album of" category for me in 2009 and 2010, respectively.  Flatfoot's "Wild Was Our Mercy" in 2009 and DBD's "Grey Buried" in 2010 were both triumphs of songwriting that merited repeat plays on my stereo, at my job, and in my car. 

"Wild Was Our Mercy" married deft and colorful character studies to a loping fusion of twangy rock that was comfortable, familiar, and enveloping; extruded through the rockabilly of the fifties, the British Invasion's re-wiring of American country blues in the 60s, the louder end of the 1970's country-rock spectrum (think Crazy Horse with a nimbler touch), an injection of punkish energy from the 80s, and the production and recording improvements of the 90s... 40 years of rock history later, you have the dusted and scuffed sound of Flatfoot.  It's an assured mix, loosely and warmly recorded by Detroit's Jim Diamond.  We're pleased to release "Kathleen, Part 2," a direct descendent of that great album's "Kathleen" -- and an early glimpse of Flatfoot's upcoming full-length (due this winter).

Drunken Barn Dance's sophomore album is sonically pretty distant from the lo-fi, home-recorded, self-titled batch of songs singer/songwriter Scott Sellwood had released a few years earlier.  For "Grey Buried," Sellwood enlisted Jim Roll to engineer and record a live-in-the-studio recording featuring a veritable Ann Arbor supergroup of sidemen.  Where the previous album could be whisper quiet, "Grey Buried" would once again give a band like Crazy Horse a run for their money: loud and played with a fierce and obvious love of the material by his backing band, the album has energy and thrills in spades.  It's an easy 5-star album that on a more level, clutter-free playing field would be blasting out of dorm room windows and jukeboxes from sea to shining sea.  For the 3-Way Singles Club, Sellwood reaches back to his 4-tracking roots with "Honey High," a song that feels like Brian Wilson via Bob Pollard.  Sellwood physically dragged the tape to pitch his guitar track lower, and the song sees it's first glimmer of daylight as an official release here (or, rather, at the link above).

Sleeping Timmy (the solo project of Break-Ups frontman Timmy Rodriguez) turns in the beautiful, catchy and optimistic "Sand Castle Sky," a duet with Aly Rose, to complete this month's single.  Sleeping Timmy has digitally released one album and a couple EPs that have allowed Rodriguez to stretch his songwriting legs and experiment with different electronic and kitchen-sink textures.  "Sand Castle Sky" is a testament to just how essential solo projects can be for working musicians, a lilting ziggurat of catchy climbing chords balanced atop ukelele, guitar, and bass with some gently unidentifiable bell tones that lead into the verses.  A sweet and earnest song that shrugs good-naturedly at its own brilliant hummability, the perfect tuneful singalong for the season of colored leaves.

This month's 3-Way single is best paired with a glass of (whiskey optional) cider, and perhaps a grassy hillside to point out shapes in the clouds.  Reveries and lulls are perfect companions for early fall.

Next month, the 3-Way Singles Club will feature Josh David & The Dream Jeans, Funender, and Cat Midway & The Knick Knacks!  Wow.

(You can become a fan of It Takes A Village To Make Records on facebook at, that'd be so nice.)

Have a happy Halloween.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

3-Way Singles Club Volume 6th arrives October 19th!

Ushering in the season of crunchy yellow and red leaves, ITAV will release one of our most awaited singles of the series right when you, the listener, just might need a little pick-me-up:  midweek (Wednesday) October 19th.

Featuring unreleased music from Drunken Barn Dance, Sleeping Timmy with Aly Rose, and Flatfoot, Volume 6 channels its songcraft in 3 interesting directions destined for earbuds and car stereos throughout our cooling, watercolored autumn world. 

Stay tuned for the link this coming humpday, warm up some cider and/or whiskey, and enjoy the sights and scents of fall!