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.

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