Jake Simmons & the Little Ghosts – Shake So Easy

shakesoeasy
Spiderhouse Records

Kalamazoo Rock

Let us make no bones about it; Jake Simmons & the Little Ghosts love rock n’ roll.

This record is informed by the relatively short history of that loudest and most raucous of American musics, and it is not ashamed.  On the contrary, the love that this band has for these sounds is down right unabashed. The performances on Shake So Easy – the group’s third full-length – are as a rule tight and lean, while the arrangements are concise without lacking depth. The boys are playing loud, and you just know they are having fun. The grooves are deep, the hooks are sharp, and once they are in they do not come out.

From a songwriting perspective, Jake delivers passages that vary in obfuscation, balancing between a pool of metaphors and a river of truisms while dipping his toe in each. His voice goes from high and sweet to a weather-worn growl that can only be described as Real. He sings about hardship in the Midwest in a way that makes the uninitiated understand, while sparking the expatriated to remember.

The pacing of Shake So Easy is interesting. Overall it moves well enough, save for the back-to-back monoliths of No One Can Sleep and Black Wind in the center of the album. This pair of longer, slower tunes can seem a bit unpassable if you’re in a certain mood, but for those that push beyond there are moments of sweetness and serenity to be found – most notably on Movies, though there the title track offers some short reprieve as well.

Overall, this music is a genuine, well-executed example of what it means to be alive right now in Michigan. These songs are the band’s finest works to date, and presented as they are make up one of my favorite albums of 2018.

-JWS

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Paddy Hanna – Frankly, I Mutate

frankly
Strange Brew

Ireland Rock N’ Soul

Fade in to a folk-rock jam session. The drummer has had one too many. The man on the clarinet has had just the right amount. It is near enough the end of the evening that someone got a synthesizer out and nobody is upset about it. The tune marches to a halt with just enough flourish to show that they meant it. Thus is track one, and it is not representative of anything else on the record.

That is the charm, of course, with Paddy Hanna’s second album. Each track moves through sounds that are fresh while at the same time familiar, never resting too long on a particular style or motif. Here is Bad Boys, a fast-moving lounge tune that would have a place on any French romance soundtrack of the ’60s, were it not for the Irish-English whispered over-top. Skip ahead to Mario Lanza, a blue-eyed soul cut with a near-perfect hook. Later we hear Spanish Smoke, a track that invokes the psych-surf spirits of yore. Even the titular Frankly, I Mutate stands out from the crowd of stand-outs, embracing gallop and schmaltz in a way that still manages to be sincere.

These varied works should be as disparate as anything, but instead they are threaded together by lush, well-played instrumentation and an expressive, far-reaching vocal performance. The arrangement swells at times with horns and strings while contracting at others to the rock-essentials, but the production is quite nice on this record and never keeps you wanting for sound, no matter the genetics of a given track.

These are songs about living and love and living without love. Taken one by one, each tune has its own luster. The whole, though, is lovely in both pacing and presentation, and very easy to listen to on repeat in the background or foreground.

-JWS

Gitis Baggs – The Gitis Baggs Game

gbgame
Double Phelix

Kalamazoo Ambient Country/Folk

Confession time: I have had a love affair with the music of Gitis Baggs for quite some time.

Gitis lives in the traditional melancholy of midwest folk, psyche folk, alternative country, and so on. Whatever genre you ascribe to it, The Gitis Baggs Game oozes a type of comforting cerebral take on the world reminiscent of acts like Red Red Meat, Holopaw, Built to Spill, or Olivia Tremor control. Not that Gitis’ music is derivative of those acts or even sounds like them necessarily, but if you were to throw The Gitis Baggs Game on shuffle with various The Elephant 6 Collective acts it would fit right in. Added with a country twang.

I balked originally at using the word traditional, but I am writing this review in 2017. It seems fitting now to call psyche-folk, alt-country, and other midwest bastard genres falling under that banner, a tradition.

The bandcamp page has this album also tagged as ambient, and I think that is also a great way to look at this work.

It is calm in its uncomfortable clarity. The music is relaxed, at times organically washing upwards into large ornamentation.

Maybe I have been listening to too much Trap lately, or overtly electronic productions, so I may be biased here. But there is even a nicely lo-fi country track in the middle of the album. It sticks out because it has a different singer, but is just really solid and succinct.

For a majority of this thing, Gitis waxes poetic on top of these airy jams. Ruminating on various human conditions and applying a kind of optimistic nihilism in every verse.

I am not sure if this is a concept album, or maybe every Gitis album is a concept album, but I enjoy applying my own mythos to the tracks and what they mean.

Listen to this one on a rainy day. Or for a walk in the fall when the leaves are falling. Or if something terrible has happened and you want a sympathetic voice.

– JK

Last Gasp Collective – Agape

agape
Last Gasp

Kalamazoo Soul

Last Gasp Collective is a fluid musical outfit of Kalamazoo musicians centered around the creative drive of Jay Jackson. Agape is their second and latest release. It was produced almost completely in Jackson’s home recording studio, and features crisp and clean production for a home-engineering endeavor – surely a product of extreme attention-to-detail and a great deal of skill. This record sounds polished, modern, and lively.

The musicans in Last Gasp Collective center around a core of bass/drums/guitar/keyboards, with a who’s who of Kalamazoo players complimenting various tracks by lending cello, saxophone lines, as well as additional guitars and vocals. The music moves in style from modern and smooth R&B to subtle funk tracks, but it never fails to just feel good. Vocal harmonies, solo leads and rap verses all play prominent parts on this record, and all are delivered to excellent effect on each track, always complimentary and never distracting.

The pacing and structure of this record is wonderful, and is just as easy to listen to and love actively as it is to run in the backrground and nod your head to while you work on writing your master’s thesis, out-of-office group work email, or record review.

– JWS

 

Jeremy Ruggles – The Pyramid is Circular

jruggs
Already Dead Tapes & Records

Kalamazoo Psychadelia

Jeremy Ruggles has been writing songs since he was but a boy playing in rock bands with his friends. He has been recording these songs for the past six years, and finally they have been released to the world. The chosen vessel for delivery: a cassette published by Already Dead Tapes & Records.

These songs are dark. These songs are bleak. They are hopeless at times, and apologetic other times, all the while holding all of humanity accountable for the crimes it has committed against not just the planet it inhabits, but against itself.

Stylistically this album leaps from ’80s-eque power ballads to faux-swing tunes to rock and roll tours-de-force. The production is crisp and clear and crazy at times. Effected vocals and wild synthesizers are part and parcel of the experience, which is an exercise in understanding that, as Jeremy puts it, ‘. . . It’s hard to care, it’s a surplus affair. They sell bullets everywhere.’

– JWS

 

Forget the Times – Plays Out

fttplaysout
Already Dead Tapes & Records

Kalamazoo Experimental

Somewhere hidden deep within the sounds on this record are references to genres like free-jazz, noise-rock, drone, and sludge or stoner metal.

Forget the Times ‘Plays Out’ is like intense edging session. They present you with walls of sound, vomiting this build that tries and tries to resolve itself yet, conflicted by self-awareness and the bleakness of reality, it never quite gets there.

This record is unsettling and complicated. Like eating a vanilla ice cream cone under suicide watch.

Like any good album, though, and much like literature, the story may be macabre but what matters is that you turn to the next page. I can tell you this album might turn you on to edging. You get off on waiting for something that you just can’t have.

I imagine this album is about praying to an ambivalent God. I imagine it’s about trashing your room looking for a baggie of the drugs that are ruining your life. As a listener, you can visit this territory with Forget the Times, thankfully without actually being there.

There is a type of mastery to what seems random, sporadic on this album. If the drummer hits the side of the snare on accident it adds to the story. If the guitar plucks a note that is out of tune, the plot thickens. The artistry is in the method.

Don’t cry when the music goes away. Don’t yell when it comes back. You can float in a bubble through this cacophony and come out whole on the other end.

A good one for perspective, and meditation.

– JK

The Reptilian – End Paths

endpaths
Skeletal Lightening, Community Records, iCorrupt

Kalamazoo Post/Progressive Hardcore

The Reptilian have been around for closing on a decade. With a start rooted firmly in the hardcore and post-hardcore world of the late aughts, you expect certain things when you queue up one of their albums. Their newest record End Paths delivers those things.

With the technical prowess of this group never being up for debate, End Paths offers up an example of a band that only gets tighter and more refined as they grow and play together. The composition of music is robust and mature, and serves the offered lyricism near-perfectly. Couple that with a wonderful production quality, and you have yourself a haunting, hard-hitting, and beautiful piece of art.

This record is technical, heavy, and best played on a loud stereo system to be enjoyed by you and your neighbors.

– JWS