Future State: The Portingales draw from past experiences on “Paint a Little Tree” album

MUSIC INTERVIEW

The Portingales’ Phillip Campbell and V. Rose Cieri perform “Beautiful Soul” at Ann Arbor’s Big Sky Recording.

The Portingales’ Phillip Campbell and V. Rose Cieri perform “Beautiful Soul” at Ann Arbor’s Big Sky Recording. Photo courtesy of The Portingales.

The Portingales thoughtfully depict the future on Paint a Little Tree.

The second album by the Ann Arbor indie-rock duo of Phillip Campbell (vocals, guitars, bass, drums, piano) and V. Rose Cieri (vocals, violin, viola, cello) explores how past experiences, relationships, and life lessons affect how we handle what’s to come.

“I really feel like the theme of this album is ... ‘Your life is what you’re going to make of it. What choices today will you [make] to create the life that you want for yourself while coming to terms with where you’ve been?’” Campbell said. “It’s very much an album at the crossroads of life where you’re sorting things out.”

At that pivotal moment, The Portingales hover between a glistening hope and a haunting melancholy on Paint a Little Tree. Each track elicits a deep search for identity and purpose while tackling longtime challenges and setbacks.

Friday Five: Human Skull, Molly Jones & Hunter Brown, Dillan Pribak, Broomway, Future Holograms

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Friday Five album covers for the artists featured in the column

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

This week features punk-ish rock by Human Skull, avant-garde sound sculpting by Molly Jones & Hunter Brown, and various takes on electronica subgenres by Dillan Pribak, Broomway, and Future Holograms.

 

​​University of Michigan Museum of Art’s expansive "Watershed" exhibit flows through the political and social history of the Great Lakes region

VISUAL ART REVIEW

UMMA's Watershed exhibit

Inside the gallery at ​​the University of Michigan Museum of Art's Watershed exhibit. Photo courtesy of UMMA.

​​University of Michigan Museum of Art’s (UMMA) Watershed exhibition comments on the complicated relationship the Great Lakes region has with water. Despite the area's broad access to fresh water, cities like Flint have endured ongoing water crises, rivers like the Huron are impacted by contaminating spills, and the Great Lakes watersheds continue to degrade.

The exhibit brings together a diverse group of 15 contemporary artists whose works focus broadly on the Great Lakes area. Watershed offers wall text in both English and Anishinaabemowin (translated by Margaret Noodin and Michael Zimmerman, Jr.) in recognition of the Anishinaabeg (commonly referred to as Ojibwe) being indigenous to the Great Lakes region.

​​Watershed is complex and expansive. As curator Jennifer Friess states, it “immerses visitors in the interconnected histories, present lives, and imagined futures of the Great Lakes region.” The exhibition title refers to “the geographical network of the Great Lakes basin—the five lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior) and rivers, streams, and reservoirs that feed into them.”

The artists’ engagement with the concept of the Great Lakes regions’ rich and often exploited resources vary in scope and content, offering a wide array of responses to past, present, and future iterations of activism and justice related to these waterways. Friess notes, “Many sound an alarm about the pervasive and lasting effects of corporate self-interest and extractive pollution. … All demonstrate how art can contribute to and shape current dialogues on the critical problems confronting our region.” 

​​As noted, this exhibition features six new commissions from artists selected by the museum:

Look Up: Astronomy at the Beach returns for first in-person event since 2019—and will create a comet

PULP LIFE INTERVIEW

A sunset shot in front of a lake with telescopes set up and silhouettes of people.

Photo courtesy of Astronomy at the Beach.

Astronomy at the Beach (AATB) is an annual two-day event each fall sponsored by the Great Lakes Association of Astronomy Clubs. This year AATB will take place in person after two years as a virtual-only event. It runs September 16 and 17, from 4 pm until midnight each day, at the Island Lake Picnic Grounds inside Island Lake State Recreation Area in Brighton, Michigan.

We asked AATB’s communications volunteer Brian Ottum to give us an overview of the event and what we can expect this year.

Friday Five: William Bolcom, Michael Malis and Virago, Jack Withers, Nadim Azzam, Mark Zhu

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Albums covers for the musicians featured in Friday Five 09-02-2022

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

This week features composer William Bolcom, post-classical new music by Michael Malis and Virago, electronica by Jack Withers, singer-songwriter hip-hop by Nadim Azzam, and a music video for Mark Zhu's recent ballad.

 

Agent Audio: Ypsilanti label AGN7 runs a stealth operation dedicated to drum 'n' bass music

MUSIC INTERVIEW

AGN7 Audio logo

Scrolling through Bandcamp’s releases tagged “Ypsilanti,” it won’t be long before you find a mysterious label called AGN7 Audio that's releasing top-notch new drum 'n' bass songs and albums—along with some techno and dub—by artists from around the world.

Founded in 2015, AGN7—pronounced “Agent"—is one of the few modern labels to focus so deeply on d 'n' b, also known as jungle, which started in the early '90s U.K. rave scene and is characterized by fast, skittering breakbeats and a dystopian-funk vibe.

Despite garnering respect among hardcore junglists, there’s not much AGN7 information or media coverage out there, and the label tends to keep a low profile. So we reached out to AGN7 co-founder and current chief, Aaren Alseri—aka Ronin Selecta in his DJ days—to learn about the label's origin, influences, and future. 

In U-M prof Jacinda Townsend’s “Mother Country,” one woman claims another’s daughter and perpetuates family patterns

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Author Jacinda Townsend and her book Mother Country

“Some people wanted freedom, she thought, and others wanted safety. She’d never find the two in the same place.” 

This reflection by the character, Souria, in Mother Country weighs the impossible choices that characters make—or are forced to make. Jacinda Townsend’s new novel examines the repercussions of human trafficking, the implications of family bonds, and cross-continental ties. Townsend is the Helen Zell Visiting Professor in Fiction at the University of Michigan. She is also the author of the novel Saint Monkey.

In Mother Country, when one mother, Souria, loses her child in Marrakech, another woman, Shannon, becomes a mother, gains a daughter, and brings her to Louisville, Kentucky, even though the events leading up to the switch—and also following it—are problem-ridden. Shannon learns, “The right thing never felt like the good thing.”

Souria’s and Shannon’s lives intertwine in ways made more visible by chapters that alternate between narrating their two separate lives. Later on, the perspective of the daughter—once known as Yumni, then as Mardi—emerges, as well as that of Vlad, who is Shannon’s husband. They all are cognizant of their missteps in life, but there is no turning back to change them. For example, Shannon, who often gets high to blunt the lingering pain from her near-fatal car wreck, perceives her flaws, yet cannot remedy them: 

Friday Five: ​​​​​​​PRISM Quartet / Timothy McAllister and Liz Ames, Von Siwel, Doogatron, Flight Patterns, Rosary

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Friday Five album covers for August 26, 2022 featuring PRISM Quartet / Timothy McAllister and Liz Ames, Von Siwel, Doogatron, Flight Patterns, Rosary

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

This week features classical-jazz-new music by PRISM Quartet / Timothy McAllister and Liz Ames, R&B via Von Siwel, techno by Doogatron, emo-indie courtesy Flight Patterns, and synth-pop by Rosary.

 

The book “Kelly Hoppenjans Takes Herself Too Seriously” plays with the poetics of the Ann Arbor indie rocker's lyrics

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Kelly Hoppenjans and her book Takes Herself Too Seriously

Author photo by Autumn Dozier.

What makes a poem versus a song?

Setting the words to music may be an obvious answer, but the difference between the page and the studio are more complex than that. 

In her new book, Kelly Hoppenjans Takes Herself Too Seriously: A Collection of Poems, Music, Lyrics, and Some Real Arty Shit, the indie rock singer-songwriter and graduate student at the University of Michigan draws attention to the lyrics from her recent Can’t Get the Dark Out EP and the divergent forms of poetry and lyrics.

As she told Pulp, “To me, lyrics and poetry are separate forms, and the process for each is quite different.”

The musical "Hands on a Hardbody" explores class empathy, big personalities, and personal connections

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Actors Alexander Hernandez and Leah Gittlen stand side by side with one hand each placed on a red truck inin Penny Seat Theatre's production of Hards on a Hardbody

Alexander Hernandez as Jesus and Leah Gittlen as Heather in Penny Seats Theatre's production of Hands on a Hardbody. Photo courtesy of Penny Seats Theatre.

Some narrative setups just prove too irresistible to pass up.

In the case of the musical Hands on a Hardbodya group of down-on-their-luck Texans gather at a car dealership for the chance to win a new red Nissan pickup truck. To win, they must stand for days on end with one hand touching the vehicle at all times, and they each have their own motivations for committing to this grueling exercise—which means, of course, everyone has a unique story to tell.

Think of it as A Chorus Line for economically struggling Southerners.

This boiled-down assessment, as it happens, additionally hints at some of the inherent challenges of the show: how to toe the line delicately between caricatures and big personalities; between blue state talking points and red state realities; and between appropriation and a heart’s-in-the-right-place effort at inclusion.

But the play vacillates in its ability to pull off this delicate balance, and its structure makes the musical a series of character sketches more than a cohesive dramatic story arc with high stakes. 

Yes, each person has his/her reasons for wanting the truck so badly, but in the end, we know everyone will probably be OK if they lose this contest, too.

Inspired by a 1997 documentary of the same name, and now being staged by Penny Seats Theatre in Ann Arbor's Burns Park, the two-and-a-half-hour Hands on a Hardbody premiered on Broadway in 2013 and features a book by Pulitzer Prize winner Doug Wright (I Am My Own Wife) and music by Phish frontman Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green.