Friday Five: Local Obscurities with Wild Boys, Brat Axis, Möl Triffid, Monster Bait, The Iodine Raincoats

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Cover art for the albums and singles featured in the Friday Five.

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This edition features some vintage odds and sods that I've wanted to write about in some form or fashion, including psychedelic jams by Wild Boys (1973), soulful rock by Brat Axis (1975), sludgy grunge by Möl Triffid (1990), art punk by Monster Bait (1991), and stadium new wave by The Iodine Raincoats (1988).

Gregory Alan Isakov Brings His Wistful Folk Music to Ann Arbor Summer Festival

MUSIC REVIEW

Gregory Alan Isakov wears a brown hat and holds an acoustic guitar.

Gregory Alan Isakov stopped in Ann Arbor for his Appaloosa Bones tour. Photo taken from Ann Arbor Summer Fest's Facebook page.

Gregory Alan Isakov often forgets the words to his most commercially successful song, “Big Black Car.”

“If you know the words, sing along,” the folk singer-songwriter begged the packed Hill Auditorium audience on June 17 in Ann Arbor. “Please.”

But unlike some disgruntled artists who refuse to play their hits as they progress in their careers, Isakov is gracious for the work that’s propelled him to perform on different stages.

His plea was more respectful than snarky, and it was a nod to one of his early albums, 2009’s This Empty Northern Hemisphere.

Ann Arbor Summer Fest partnered with The Ark to host Isakov on the University of Michigan’s campus. Established in 1984 by the City of Ann Arbor and U-M, the nonprofit puts on the monthlong arts-based festival each June. 

Better From Here Music aims to help local musicians find their voices—and their audiences

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Selfie photo by Kristen Mercado

A selfie by Better From Here Music's Kristen Mercado.

Kristen Mercado has a vision for local music. 

Mercado strongly believes that musicians need more opportunities for their work to be created and heard. So the singer-songwriter-producer who works under the name Larkn is doing something to make that happen with Better From Here Music, her Ann Arbor-based record label, production studio, and publishing company. The ultimate goal is to help artists create sustainable careers in music.

“I believe really strongly in development and songwriting and an individual person’s voice and not just in music talent alone,” Mercado said. “As a producer, I hope to be able to help bands and artists record their music and be happy with their music. I know that the challenges of having a budget for that are great, so I would like to help by encouraging music artists via the services, opportunities, and advice I can provide.”

Mercado explained more about Better From Here Music in an email interview.

After the “Storm”: Ann Arbor Singer-Songwriter Annie Bacon explores grief on her new folk-rock album

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Annie Bacon stands in the middle of a room and wears a black dress and veil in mourning.

Annie Bacon explores grief in all its forms on Storm. Photo by Cybelle Codish.

When it comes to grief, Annie Bacon doesn’t want people to feel alone.

The Ann Arbor singer-songwriter and guitarist views it as a shared emotion that fosters connection and growth with others.

“Something that I’ve done with my art and that I feel like is important is to take on this role and say, ‘I don’t know if anybody understands me, but I’m going to explain what I’m going through in a way that hopefully other people can feel seen and understood,’” said Bacon, who performs under the moniker Annie Bacon & Her Oshen.

“I try to find the places where my experience might be universal and create these little bridges into my experience. That’s one of my philosophical approaches to songwriting: I want to as accurately as possible describe the experience I’m going through in the hopes that it creates a witness for somebody else.”

Bacon masters that honest songwriting approach and explores grief in all its forms on her new folk-rock album, Storm. The record’s 14 poignant tracks take listeners on an emotional odyssey through death, divorce, job changes, the pandemic, and a loss of identity.

Friday Five: Same Eyes, Maddy Ringo, Rosary, Mathew A. Jacqmin-Kramer, Sumeus, Anteomedroma

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Cover art for the albums and singles featured in the Friday Five.

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This edition features synth-pop by Same Eyes, folk-pop by Maddy Ringo, retrowave by Rosary, video-game music by Mathew A. Jacqmin-Kramer, and black metal by Sumeus and Anteomedroma.

Dream On: The Whiskey Charmers Explore Tales of Change on New “Streetlights” Album

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

The Whiskey Charmers' Lawrence Daversa holds a white electric guitar, and Carrie Shepard wears a brown suede cowboy hat.

Lawrence Daversa and Carrie Shepard of The Whiskey Charmers. Photo courtesy of The Whiskey Charmers.

The Whiskey Charmers often find creative inspiration in a dream.

The Detroit duo of Carrie Shepard (vocals, acoustic guitar) and Lawrence Daversa (electric guitar, backing vocals) took that route while writing the title track for their new alt-country album, Streetlights.

“I had a dream that I was watching Chris Stapleton perform his new song,” Shepard said. “In my dream, it’s the chorus of the song, and I woke up, remembered it, and sang the chorus into my phone. It’s not a real song—it was just made up in my dream.”

Right after her dream, Shepard converted that imaginary song into “Streetlights,” which features exploratory lyrics and fiery electric-guitar solos.

She sings, “Was running under streetlights, in my dreams / Flying down the stairway, defying gravity / Then I felt lightning from the sky / Yeah, I felt a white light hit me / Right between the eyes.”

“I think of it as a weird, dream-like state that’s a little bit unsettling. I do have the one part of the [song] where I’m saying I fly down the stairway defying gravity, and I have dreams of people chasing me,” Shepard said.

“In my dream, if somebody’s chasing me, when I get to a stairway, I know I can just fly down. That’s where that came from. We tried our best to make the recording in that vibe to get that across.”

Oh, What a Beautiful Production: Encore Theatre gives "Oklahoma" a magical infusion of youth

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Encore Theatre's production of Oklahoma.

Photo by Michele Anliker Photography.

The Encore Theatre’s artistic director and co-founder Daniel Cooney takes the helm of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s game-changing and beloved musical Oklahoma and has given it a youth infusion.

Just down the road from Dexter is the University of Michigan’s School of Music and Theatre with some of the most talented young performers anywhere, many of them bound for Broadway and Hollywood. The Encore has a group of excellent actors who perform at the highest level. Put them together and the result is magical.

From the moment a swaggering Curly greets Aunt Eller with the rousing declaration, "Oh, what beautiful morning, oh, what a beautiful day" we get the idea that we will be given a jolt of boundless energy. The electricity never flags.

Oklahoma opened on Broadway in 1943. It was the first of an unprecedented run of hit musicals. Rodgers' music and Hammerstein’s book and lyrics dominated Broadway for the next 20 years. Hammerstein stepped in to write the book and lyrics after Rodger’s long-time lyricist, the brilliant but troubled Lorenz Hart, declined to participate and suggested Hammerstein as a replacement. 

Friday Five: Mighty Clouds, Winged Wheel, Dr. Pete Larson, Great Arm, XiNNiW

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Cover art for the albums and singles featured in the Friday Five.

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This edition features a trio of Fred Thomas-associated bands including indie-pop by Mighty Clouds, hypnotic jams by Winged Wheel, and even more hypnotic jams by Dr. Pete Larson and his Cytotoxic Nyatiti Band as well as indie-rock by Great Arm and electronica by XiNNiW.

 

Long-Awaited Sequel: Cinetopia Film Festival returns to Ann Arbor

FILM & VIDEO PREVIEW

Cinetopia Ann Arbor 2024 logo

Five years after its final pre-COVID edition, the long-awaited return of the Cinetopia Film Festival is finally upon us courtesy of Marquee Arts, the new name for the Michigan Theater Foundation.

Gathering films from many of the world’s best festivals—including Cannes, Sundance, SXSW, Telluride, Toronto, and Venice—this new version of Cinetopia is a pared-down program of 30 films (plus a few special screenings and events), and the entire festival will be taking place solely in Ann Arbor. A fairly even mix of narrative and documentary features have been selected, with 16 films from the U.S. and the other 14 from all over the world.

You should check out the whole program, but here are nine films you really shouldn’t miss. 

Films are listed chronologically according to when they play during the festival, which runs from Thursday, June 13–Sunday, June 23. Click on the film titles for showtimes, tickets, and more info.

"Heavy" Rotation: Cece June's new EP paints an emotional self-portrait

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Cece June holds an electric guitar and looks away from the camera.

Cece June chronicles loss, acceptance, and growth on How Did This Get So Heavy? Photo by Gabby Mack.

For Cece June, life is filled with near-misses and unresolved emotions.

The New York City singer-songwriter processes a gamut of feelings—from heartbreak to frustration to hope—about unclosed chapters on her latest indie-folk EP, How Did This Get So Heavy?

“It's a feeling that emulates the void when something is no longer in your life. It’s that feeling of trying to grapple with not having people around anymore or accepting that you’re going to have to move on,” said June, a University of Michigan alumna from Barcelona, Spain.

“It’s also feeling displaced or feeling frustrated. For instance, on ‘Things Unsaid,’ you’re [ruminating] on why something could have gone wrong and thinking, ‘I could potentially have an idea of what went wrong, but if I wanted to talk to the person for them to tell me and for me to get closure I can’t because they’re no longer in my life.’ There’s no way to answer those questions to let you move forward and move on easier.”

Despite those challenges, June faces her emotions head-on and looks to the future on her sophomore release. She chronicles loss, acceptance, and growth across eight tracks, which feature cathartic lyrics and wistful stripped-down instrumentation.

“I found solace in seeing the songs evolve as I evolved as a person myself. This EP was written and recorded over two-and-a-half to three years,” June said.

“There were songs that would ebb and flow, and there were times when I was recording them in the thick of the pain or times when I was reminiscing … and no longer being in the depths of that feeling or the grief or the heartbreak.”

To learn more, I spoke with June about her EP and the inspiration behind it.