When Dr. Peter Larson found out he was going to Malawi in Southeast Africa as part of his graduate studies, one question came to his mind:
"Where's Malawi?" Larson said with a smile during an interview at the Ann Arbor District Library. "I didn't know anything about Africa."
Now an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan's Institute of Social Research, Larson later went to Nairobi, Kenya to work on public health issues. He lived there between 2014-2017 and immersed himself in the music scene.
That experience changed the trajectory of Larson's artistic life.
A longtime guitarist who played in numerous rock and noise bands since the 1990s, including 25 Suaves and Couch, Larson is also one of the people behind the experimental Bulb Records, which released the first records by Wolf Eyes and Ann Arbor native Andrew W.K.
But Larson was so enchanted the first time he heard a nyatiti -- an eight-string lyre/lute-type traditional instrument of the Luo people in Western Kenya -- he decided to learn how to play it.
"In 2015, I received an instrument from a friend and had no idea what to do with it," Larson wrote in the press release for the Nyatiti Attack LP on Dagoretti Records by his teacher, Oduor Nyagweno, who he lovingly calls Old Man. "Sometime in 2016, I saw Daniel Onyango play with his band Africa Jambo Beats in Nairobi and approached him about taking lessons. He then introduced me to the Old Man, I haven’t looked back."
A lot of us hibernate in the winter -- and to an outsider, it may seem like The Kelseys have been slumbering since last spring. But the Ann Arbor pop-rock band, which has only played a relative handful of concerts over the past year, is comprised of four full-time University of Michigan students, three of whom are in their senior year.
It's no fun doing late-night load-outs at a nightclub when you know there's a mechanical engineering test in the morning.
But even if The Kelseys haven't been on stage as of late, the group did release a steady stream of songs in 2019, and singer-guitarist Peter Kwitny continued to create and release solo music, too.
The Kelseys, who formed in 2016 and named themselves after U-M's museum of archeology, recently completed their So Little to Say project with the release of "Something Else," the fifth song in the series. (A 2018 Kelseys tune was also remixed last year into slow-burn electronica: "Pollyanna (Jeff Basta Mix)")
"These tracks were recorded at multiple locations," said drummer Josh Cukier of So Little to Say, answering Kelseys questions for Kwitny, guitarist Evan Dennis, and bassist Liam O’Toole (who is a junior at U-M). "All live drums were recorded in Toledo, Ohio, at Steven Warstler's studio. Most of the lead vocals were recorded there as well. Most other components -- guitar, bass, synth, and percussion -- were recorded in The Stu, which was the name affectionately assigned to [my] bedroom at the house we lived in last year. A few remaining components were recorded in the Duderstadt Studios with Ryan Cox acting as the engineer; these include the saxophone, piano, spoken word, and group vocal parts in '1998' and 'Something Else.'"
The Kelseys have self-described as an "indie-dance pop band," though that doesn't give enough credit to the group's radio-friendly sound: It's easy to imagine So Little to Say's upbeat "This Life" or "Everything Is Beautiful" wedged between Fun. and Foster the People on Ann Arbor's 107.1-FM.
On Saturday, Jan. 11, at AADL's downtown location, NCMC and the U-M-associated MEMCO are teaming up to help people learn how to create music, DJ, and produce accompanying visuals. No registration required; just show up. Topics will include:
~ Introduction to Live Coding by David Minnix and TheTimeRipper
~ Getting Started With DJing
~ Ableton Live Production Demystified by Bill Van Loo
~ Introduction to DAW Production With FL Studio by Akshay Chacko
~ DIY Getting Started
~ Getting Started With Live Visuals
MEMCO and NCMC members are always busy creating their own music and mixes, including two recent DJ sets from the former and two new albums by artists with the latter:
Judy Banker has been a mainstay of the local country and folk music scene for more than a decade when, along with her late husband, John Sayler, she began accompanying the well-known Michigan singer-songwriter Jay Stielstra on guitar and harmony vocals.
Banker continues to accompany Stielstra on stage, but after her husband passed away she also began recording and performing her own songs with a rotating lineup of musicians. Her new album, Buffalo Motel, is a significant departure from her previous two CDs.
While she again recorded at Dave Roof's Rooftop Recording Studio in Grand Blanc and worked with some of the same musicians who have been accompanying her in concert for years, Buffalo Motel, has a more “muscular” sound than her previous albums, to quote her co-producer and son, Ben Sayler. The instrumentation and musical arrangements of Buffalo Motel have a country-rock feel and are both more varied, full than her previous country folk-tinged recordings.
Banker celebrates the release of Buffalo Motel with a concert at The Ark on Thursday, January 9. I asked Banker about the new recording and her songwriting.
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.
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.)
It was nearly 10 am on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2019, when I turned on WCBN in my car. The University of Michigan student radio station is a staple in my listening routine, but even my catholic ears were surprised to hear noise icon Merzbow power-sawing his way through two tracks followed by fellow Japanese screechers Otomo Yoshihide and Keiji Haino just after breakfast time.
It was free-form radio at its free-formiest, but it was also a reminder that these Japanese artists -- among others on the outer fringes of music -- helped spawn a Southeast Michigan noise-music scene in the 1990s that, despite the difficult listening, spread through the DIY underground and helped hatch micro-scenes in various basements across the U.S.
The Michigan scene birthed in the 1990s grew up in the early 2000s -- think Wolf Eyes, Universal Indians, Princess Dragonmom -- and began to morph as artists left the state, changed the focus of their music, or left playing in bands entirely. Still, the scene continued to plug away and mutate with new groups emerging such as the more rocking Child Bite and Heavier Than Air Flying Machines, the dark and ambient Evenings, tape-based acts Sick Llama and Creode, coarse electronics from Lidless Eye, and electro-acoustic weirdness from The New Me, Glass Path, and more. There was also the recent Trip Metal festivals, founded by Wolf Eyes' John Olson, which brought together noise freaks, free jazzers, and assorted other sonic cosmonauts in Detroit for three days of plundering earholes.
And I can't forget Ann Arbor's mysterious Satan Face, an unnamed member of which appears to be responsible for playing Merzbow & Co. on the radio during otherwise pleasant mid-mornings. The Satan Face show Nothing but the '90s! is on WCBN every Tuesday from 9-11 am playing the harshest of the harsh, and that show's playlist could easily include Ben Miller's Porcelain Hammer and Mark Morgan, former guitarist for acclaimed art-rock act Sightings. Miller and Morgan lived away from Michigan for many years, but they've both returned to the Detroit area and are teaming up for a hair-parting concert on Saturday, Dec. 14, at Lo-Fi Bar in Ann Arbor.
The Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor hip-hop scene is so prolific that it feels like there's not a day that goes by that doesn't feature a new single, video, or concert from one of its artists or collectives. From the Approachable Minorities/Northern Threat Entertainment/734 Saturdays faction and Duke Newcomb's Dojo to Louis Picasso's Hiiigherminds and numerous other associations of DJs and MCs, there's been an ongoing hip-hop renaissance in Washtenaw County the past few years.
The KeepItG Records troop is among the most productive of these resolutely DIY groups -- and that's not even counting DJ Dyelow creating a beat every day of 2017. In addition to Dyelow, the crew includes producers/DJs/MCs Hi Potent C, DJ Cataclysmic, S.Delli, Aareus Jones, TwoFace Suave, and Caldane.
Many of these artists -- along with Denae, STY, Julia Furlong, and J. Donahey -- will come together on December 14 at Ziggy's in Ypsilanti for a breast cancer research fundraiser. It will also serve as something of a kickoff party for Dyelow and Hi Potent C's forthcoming album, War Medicine. The debut single, "Medicine," dropped December 5, and a new track is scheduled to be released every week until the album is fully out.
Below is a selection of 2019 videos, songs, and mixtapes by artists associated with KeepItG Records to help you play catch-up.