AADL 2019 STAFF PICKS: BOOKS, MUSIC, MOVIES & MORE
Below you will see that 41 Ann Arbor District Library employees composed 18,000 words listing arts and culture that made an impact on their lives in this calendar year. While movies, books, and music released in 2019 figured prominently among our picks, we never limit our selections to material from the past year. Not all timeless art can be discovered and absorbed in a mere 365 days, so we're like Master P: no limits.
"It's making me uncomfortable but it's relaxing, too."
My kid's succinct review of A World Without Ice at Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum likely captures the sensation U-M music professors Michael Gould and Stephen Rush, along with Dutch electronic-media artist Marion Tränkle, had in mind when they created their multimedia installation with climate scientist and U-M professor emeritus Henry Pollack (co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore).
Pollack's book A World Without Ice inspired the exhibit, which artfully illustrates through sound, music, and visuals the glaciers melting and asks us to consider our role in their disappearance.
Rush created a dark, ambient composition that drones discretely in the background as Tränkle's film -- featuring Pollack and associate's gorgeous images of the Arctic and Antarctic -- plays on a curved screen. But as you sit in the blackened room and your ears tune-in to Rush's music, the soothing and menacing tones are punctuated by the seven floor-tom drums arced around the front of the exhibit. (Presumably, seven toms for the seven continents, all of which will be affected by climate change.)
Dan Thomas took two of his favorite things and made something better.
Full Metal Events - Comedy & Music “started off as strictly a stand-up show,” Thomas says. “But I also really enjoy music, too. Saturday Night Live inspired me to take those two pieces -- good stand-up comedy and musical guests -- and put them together.”
The show begins with a comedian, followed by a few songs from the musical guest, about an hour of stand-up, and then ends with the musical guest again.
Thomas makes it a point to feature a diverse lineup. “We rotate hosts and performers every show,” he says.
The musical talent is as wide-ranging as its performers. Past shows have included music guests such as Nappi Devi, Frank Grimaldi, and Mark Norman Harris, who does rap, folk, and comedy. Comedians have come from both near and far and include Samantha Rager, Connor Meade (who recently won first place in the recent Comedy Rumble), Marv Barnett, Brandi Alexander, Emily Sabo, Andrew Yang, and Tony Tale.
The show on Thursday, Dec. 26, features a lineup of nationally known performers.
Ann Arbor Revival Meeting by Scott Morgan’s Powertrane with guitarists Deniz Tek and Ron Asheton isn't a new album; it was released on CD by Real O-Mind Records in 2002. But I just discovered that an expanded two-LP and CD version came out this summer on Grown Up Wrong Records featuring three songs not on the original CD version: "Smith & Wesson Blues," "New Race," and "City Slang."
This live album was recorded at The Blind Pig in 2002 and runs the gamut of Morgan's music as well as songs by The Stooges, Radio Birdman -- the incredible Australian punk group formed by Ann Arbor native Tek, who also has a few solo compositions featured on Revival Meeting -- and Sonic's Rendezvous Band's "City Slang." (It's hard to imagine why it was left off the original CD; this essential Fred "Sonic" Smith jam is the only song officially released by the all-star group during its mid- to late-'70s run in Ann Arbor and Detroit.)
The Powertrane rhythm section here is bassist Chris "Box" Taylor, who runs the annual Fuzz Fest at The Blind Pig, and drummer Andy Frost, who was mentored by Ron's brother and fellow Stooge Scott Asheton. Additional musicians include guitarist Robert Gillespie, who played forever with Mitch Ryder, and Hiawatha, singer for the long-running band Cult Heroes, who have only recorded a handful of songs but have kept the Stooges spirit alive in Ann Arbor since the late '70s.
This album is a powerful document of swaggering, soul-infused rock 'n' roll. Check out Ann Arbor Revival Meeting below, as well as a video of the band playing at the Khyber Pass in Philadephia on April 20, 2002, and an interview with Morgan and Asheton on WCBN in 2002.
Lend Him Your Ears: Isaac Levine's Fishpeoplebirds label celebrates the release of a new tape with a little help from his friends
Despite being a talented multi-instrumentalist and knowledgeable sound engineer, Isaac Levine's recordings and songs have a ramshackle quality. His off-kilter music is so eccentric, quirky, and whimsical that the label "outsider folk" doesn't fully capture the idiosyncratic spirit behind his songs.
Levine's lyrics are frequently surreal, too -- check out his October single "Modular Synth Trucker," a 36-second ode to a guy who drives his semi-truck from town to town playing his synthesizer. That's it, that's the tune.
One of his several bands, The Platonic Boyfriends, even released an album in 2018 called Pee on These Hands.
Levine is also prolific, and in addition to "Modular Synth Trucker," this fall he and Dr. Ruby put out the Dragon's Coldness tape on his Fishpeoplebirds label, which has this tag on its Bandcamp page: "label specializing in people that Isaac knows."
Some of the many talented people Isaac knows and works with are playing Argus Farm Stop on Saturday, Dec. 21, to celebrate a new Fishpeoplebirds tape with Rebeccah Rosen's music on the A-side and Levine and Rosen's Dreambag project on the other. Both of them will perform, and so will Kevin McKay -- whose dream-pop single "Headspace" came out in November and was recorded by Levine -- Jacob Rogers, and Lily Talmers.
Check music from the performers below:
Five new music releases from Washtenaw County artists.
By day, Kyler Wilkins works for Ann Arbor software company Menlo Innovations. By night, he's Ki5, creating lovely music influenced by hip-hop, electronica, and a capella. Wilkins builds songs from samples of his voice, and while it's loop-based music, it sounds anything but stuck in a loop. As heard on his new Looking for the Sun EP, Wilkins is an expert arranger of vocal harmonies, and his compositions bloom organically into gorgeous sonic flower grooves. Curious to see how Wilkins puts it all together live? Ki5 is the first artist to perform on the first night of Mittenfest (Dec. 27-29 at Riverside Arts Center in Ypsilanti).
As a member of Ann Arbor's Towner, Alex Molica makes fuzzy indie-punk that feels Midwestern to the core. The group's self-titled four-song EP from July is ramshackle and catchy with a heart-on-the-sleeve vocal delivery. But "Great Unknown," the first single from Molica's solo project, Seattle Stomp, is a stripped-down, quirky, acoustic-guitar-based song that is built on a repeating, descending chord progression for all four minutes it lasts. Molica has an album-release show for Seattle Stomp's Maudlin Madness on January 3 at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Ypsilanti, but before that you can see Towner at The Blind Pig on December 20 as part of "Decemberween" with Detroit's The Lucid Furs, Ypsilanti's Bubak, and Ypsi-Arbor's You Look Poor! (I'm not yelling; the exclamation point is part of the band's name.)
What one person might consider an ordinary, everyday scene, another might see as unusual and unique. It all depends on where you live, since cultures evolve in different ways that fit their environments. So, a person from the Caribbean might not recognize something from the Arctic as commonplace and vice versa.
Reflections: An Ordinary Day, an exhibit University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) that features Inuit art, is filled with imagery of everyday tasks and mythologies of people who live in the Far North. But for people who live in the Midwest, these representations are anything but banal or commonplace.
This is the UMMA’s second exhibit of Inuit art and it gives viewers a chance to see even more works gifted by the Power family to the museum. In the newly named Eleanor Noyes Crumpacker Gallery, prints, drawings, and sculptures spanning from the mid-1950s to the 2010s are now on view through May 10, 2020.
The first exhibit, The Power Family Program for Inuit Art: Tillirnanngittuq, focused on the history of the Power family’s collecting and promoting art in the Cape Dorset area. While many of the pieces on display in Reflections: An Ordinary Day are direct promised gifts from the Power Family, others are purchases made possible by the Power Family Program, or gifts by donors such as Katherine Kurtz and Raburn Howland.
Works in the gallery span from the mid-20th century to the early 21st-century and feature Inuit artistic methods of inscription, printmaking, carving, and drawing. UMMA curator Vera Grant notes that the images selected for the exhibition are united in their depictions of “seemingly ordinary” everyday imagery.
Despite the clichéd, eye-roll-inducing notion of creative work that makes you laugh and makes you cry, David Sedaris’ essays are nearly universally adored because they regularly, miraculously achieve just that.
This has become particularly true in recent years as Sedaris has explored, with bracing candor, the painful aftermath of a sister’s suicide and grappled with his complicated relationship with his aging, politically conservative father.
Yes, Sedaris and his craft have both come a long way since his hilarious, breakout 1992 radio essay “The Santaland Diaries” -- chronicling Sedaris’ work experience as a Macy’s elf in New York City during the holidays -- premiered on NPR’s Morning Edition. It’s since become a kind of subversive holiday classic, up to and including a one-man stage adaptation by Joe Mantello that’s now being produced (in Ypsilanti) by Kickshaw Theatre.
Inspiration, Aspiration, Expertise: “Gerome Kamrowski: Ann Arbor’s Own Surrealist” at The Michigan Art Gallery
Gerome Kamrowski in his backyard with his sculptures; first published in black and white in The Ann Arbor News, September 4, 1993. Photo by Photographer: D. A. Biermann.
I only met Gerome Kamrowski once. He granted The Ann Arbor News a 1993 interview for the paper’s annual old school “M-Edition,” a special start-of-the-school-year section.
We met at Kamrowski's tree-lined Waterhill residence where he had a detached studio. The place looked like a well-organized bead foundry -- only in this instance, the place had also been overrun by a menagerie of fantastic creatures.
Even at the age of 79, Kamrowski had the muscular heft of a lumberjack -- a handshake that griped like an iron vice -- and the soft-spoken grace of an artiste as he played with the rows of colorful beads he used to craft his late series of eccentric, surreal sculpture.
But Kamrowski's hypnagogic style wasn't a recent turn; he started to develop it 50 years prior when he lived in New York City.
During the winter of 1939/40, artful youths Kamrowski, William Baziotes (known to art historians), and Jackson Polack (known to the rest of us) were, in Kamrowski’s words, “fooling around” with lacquer paint in studio when they began throwing paint on canvases using a palette knife and a slashing gesture; ultimately overlaying paint upon layer of hard drying and smooth surface paint to create a muscular variation of French surrealist André Masson’s automatic drawing.
Borrowing a cliché that has stood the test of time: The rest was history.
Well, sort of …
Usually when I see a show for review, I don’t end up on stage, singing a Pogues song.
Mac has so many talents that I’d wear out my hyphen key if I tried to list them all. A MacArthur “Genius” and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, Mac created Holiday Sauce as a tribute to the playwright-singer-artist's drag mother, Flawless Sabrina. “She used to always say, ‘You’re the boss, apple sauce,” Mac said, referring to the show's title, and Sabrina regularly hosted "judy" and others during the holidays. (As Mac told the Los Angeles Times, "[M]y gender pronoun is 'judy’ because I wanted a gender pronoun that is an art piece.”)
And indeed, Mac’s final elaborate ensemble for the evening, which made judy resemble a majestic, snow-covered peak, featured what looked like a formation of tiny pine trees that spelled “BOSS” down the gown’s back.
Mac wore this while performing the show’s quietest and most personal number, “Christmas at Grandma’s,” wherein judy sat alone on stage and played ukulele. The darkly comic, ironically jaunty song chronicled what the holidays were like when judy was annually dragged to visit homophobic relatives who were themselves struggling with past sexual abuse, a serious head injury, and alcoholism.
So … a Norman Rockwell painting come to life, right?
But that’s the point, of course: While we’re all confronted each year by cultural depictions of perfect families joyously celebrating the holidays together, the reality is that a good number of us identify far more with the inhabitants of the Island of Misfit Toys.