Friday Five: Erin Zindle & The Ragbirds, Half Blue, J. Michael & The Heavy Burden, Lonelysaki, And Spiders
Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.
This week features fiddle-grunge by Erin Zindle & The Ragbirds, laidback hip-hop by Half Blue, adult rock by J. Michael & The Heavy Burden, dream-pop electronica by Lonelysaki, and lo-fi alt-country by And Spiders.
Erin Zindle & The Ragbirds, "New Story"
Ann Arbor's Erin Zindle has made a career of straddling genres, with her music touching on various world-folk traditions as well as alternative rock and Americana. "New Story," the latest single by Zindle and her band, The Ragbirds, continues the genre mashups—but all within one song this time. The tune starts with a mournful Irish melody, melts into plucked-fiddle singer-songwriter fare, then explodes into bluesy grunge just before the halfway mark of the song's nearly five-and-a-half-minute runtime. The video for "New Story" was filmed in Dexter at Barry Lonik's farmhouse—aka Rancho Tranquilico, which hosts concerts during warmer months—and at Ann Arbor's West Park bandshell. This is the first of several singles Zindle has scheduled for 2023, though "New Story" isn't a new song; check out the live version recorded at The Ark in 2019, too.
Half Blue, In Bloom
Former Ypsilanti resident Tyler Thompson is one-third of the town's Calculated Beats crew, but he recently decided to take his talents to South Detroit—er, I mean, Wyandotte. Thompson's Half Blue project specializes in what sounds to be sample-based hip-hop, likely using 1960s and 1970s recordings with a lot of strings as his prime sources for melodies and hooks. The beats on In Bloom generally evoke the sort of laidback instrumentals heard on the Lofi Girl YouTube channel. But rappers FoePound McGinnis and Ronnie Alpha appear on a track each here, and soulful singer The Third Son guests on "Jounin," showing Thompson is equally adept at creating music to showcase vocalists as he is at conjuring sounds for study or slumber. (Hint: Rappers looking for a producer should give Half Blue a shout.)
J. Michael & The Heavy Burden, J. Michael & The Heavy Burden
Ann Arbor's J. Michael & The Heavy Burden make adult rock 'n' roll. I'm not even sure what I mean by that, but that's the first thought I had while listening to the group's self-titled debut, which touches on all the genres the band mentions on its Facebook page: blues, folk, Americana, jam rock, etc. All 12 songs here are expertly executed and would go over well at outdoor concerts or in local bars—even if the listeners are unfamiliar with J. Michael and Co.'s music. That's because their tunes are all catchy and comfortable, evoking all sorts of classic/alt rock vibes with just enough dusty twang to attract country-centric listeners, too.
When not ripping board-flipping tricks at local skateparks, Ypsilanti's Lonelysaki found time to make a lovely debut album, Sherpa, which is filled with electronic dream pop influenced by drum 'n' bass, lo-fi hip-hop, IDM techno, and vaporwave. I always seem to bring up Tycho whenever I hear an electronic music producer who creates emotional and evocative melodies over skittering beats (c.f., Ann Arbor's Otherseas), but that's because the former Ghostly artist's beautiful music is so lodged in my brain that I get happy whenever I hear anything remotely like it. Lonelysaki is a young guy, and I'm sure there are newer acts than Tycho that these up-and-coming musicians could cite as influences or peers, but I don't know who they are yet. So, young people: Tell me who these artists are because I'm always open to more Tycho-esque music in my life, which is why I like Lonelysaki's Sherpa so much.
And Spiders, In The Woods (Deluxe Edition)
Ann Arbor's We're Twins label pumped out a giant spindle of CD-R releases between 2000 and 2006, all in small quantities, with most recordings not reaching too far outside of Southeast Michigan. But from time to time over the past few years, label co-founder Jason Voss has been putting old We're Twins releases up on Bandcamp, and he just posted that he'll upload something to the site every first Friday throughout 2023. It's a great way to discover or rediscover the Ypsi-Arbor DIY scene during that time—at least the branch focused on freak folk, indie rock, lo-fi, and electronic experiments. The band And Spiders was short-lived, only playing 10 shows before splitting up due to lead guitarist and backup vocalist Ben Tausig—another We're Twins co-founder—moving to New York City. The ensemble did manage to record an album, though, and this edition of And Spiders' 2002 record, In the Woods, features four additional tracks to the original 10, and it was remastered by Fred Thomas, who also plays drums on four songs. Voss handles bass on most of the tunes, and the lead singer is Kelly Jean Caldwell, who has gone on to release a couple of fab country-steeped solo albums. In the Woods is pretty ramshackle indie-folk rock, but that loose spirit is evident on every We're Twins release I've heard. The label was about capturing a moment in time, flaws and all, and it's great that we can now listen back to this period of time in Washtenaw County music. (Read an extensive interview about the origins and history of We're Twins here.)