Friday Five: Athletic Mic League, Kingfisher, Normal Park, Michael Abbey, Chirp
Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.
This week features hip-hop from Athletic Mic League, chamber rock by Kingfisher, emo-punk via Normal Park, art-pop by Michael Abbey, and an Ypsi jam from Chirp.
Athletic Mic League, "AML" single and 20th-anniversary documentary, Playground Legends Vol. 2
From now on, October 28 is an "official" holiday in Washtenaw County: Happy Athletic Mic League Day! Hey, I don't make the official holidays around here, I'm just geared up to celebrate them by following the edict spelled out in "AML," the new single by Ann Arbor's longstanding hip-hop collective. The song was released, in part, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the group's debut album, Sweats & Kicks. But October 28 is also the day AML released its most recent album, 2020's Playground Legends Vol.1 (which you can read about here). The tune starts with an organ panning between the speakers, setting the track's slightly hazy, laidback vibe, before settling into the League's lyrical celebration of their friendships and creative legacy.
STOP THE PRESSES! LATE BREAKING NEWS! Playground Legends Vol. 2 also dropped today! I found out after this column was published, but here's what the group says about its new album:
Most of Playground Legends Vol. 2 was created in Pasadena, CA during their second retreat in October of 2020. Finishing touches were added by sending files back and forth. Also for Volume 2, they wanted to add some features from some of their legendary homies: Kenyatta Rashon, Ro Spit, MarvWon and T. Calmese. Another collection of 7 songs that continues the story of these Playground Legends from Ann Arbor & Ypsilanti.
Athletic Mic League also released a mini-documentary about its 2022 reunion weekend, which culminated with the group headlining the Ann Arbor Summer Festival's Top of the Park stage. The film was shot by another local, Austin Roberts, who also helmed the recent Washtenaw County-centric skateboarding documentary, Drive Thru (we interviewed him here).
Kingfisher, "Snowing, all at once," "Regulate," & "Holy Hell"
I'm really excited about this Ann Arbor act after hearing the first three singles leading up to what is likely Kingfisher's debut album or EP. I know the group is made of UMich students—as many as 11 at times—and together they evoke the large-scale indie rock of groups such as Broken Social Scene, The National, and The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die. Kingfisher layers strings and horns as well as electronic flourishes to create a broad orchestral palette sonically while still sounding intimate and personal vocally. There's another song, "Do You Think I'm Pretty," scheduled to come out next week (or perhaps that's the name of the album/EP), and I've already made it appointment listening.
Normal Park, This Was It
I raved about this Ypsilanti fuzz-rock trio's recent music just a few weeks ago. I didn't realize those songs were leading to this album, which will be celebrated with a release show October 28 at Ziggy's in Ypsi. This Was It is terrific, full of melody and passion, yet gritty enough to place it firmly on the punkier side of emo rather than the Hot Topic haircut version. If the words "No Idea Records" and "The Fest" mean anything to you, Normal Park will be your new favorite band. (I also thought of Cap'n Jazz, The Promise Ring, and early Buffalo Tom while listening—high praise from this old fella.)
Michael Abbey, Gale En Gorge
Ann Arbor's Michael Abbey was studying to be a jazz bassist before fibromyalgia derailed his career as a performing musician. But he's recovered well enough to start making music again, and Gale En Gorge is his solo debut. Despite Abbey's educational background, this album doesn't have a trace of jazz on it; instead, it's a meditative piece of studio-crafted art-pop. His voice may take some getting used to—it's resonant and direct, sitting high in the mix, coming across like a more declarative version of The Decemberists' leader Colin Meloy. But it also fits the slightly off-kilter nature of the music, which mixes electronics and programmed drums alongside bowed string instruments and guitars.
There's a nice description of his sound on his Bandcamp page: "Michael’s work experiments within dream pop and slowcore schemas while drawing on the pummeling minimalism of Spacemen 3, the oblique psychedelia of John Cale, the ecology of Dennis Wilson and Alex Zhang Hungtai, and the cinematic tactility of Scott Walker and Julia Holter. He also takes inspiration from his childhood memories of coastal vacation towns Ocean City, MD and Rehoboth Beach, DE."
As Doug Coombe's 2018 post on Concentrate shows, there's no shortage of songs about Ypsilanti. But there's always room to add one more to the water-tower playlist as Chirp's new loose-limbed space blues is an ode to the place the hard-working band calls home—or where frontman Jay Frydenlund lives anyway. The song could even be considered a cousin of the ultimate Ypsi jam, Lee Osler's "Back to Ypsilanti," because the only words Frydenlund sings are "Oh Ypsilanti, It's so good to be back home / Oh Ypsilanti, I feel right where I belong."
"Ypsi" is the latest streaming single for the busy Chirpers—they talked to Pulp about many of the songs here—and a teaser for In Motion, which is a vinyl compilation that features eight tunes the quartet has released this year, along with the new "Fast Food Blues." You can hear all these tracks and pick up In Motion when Chirp plays The Blind Pig on October 29.
Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.