Interlocking Parts: Hi Potent C and Dyelow's "War Medicine" highlights the KeepItG Records collective's creative bond
The Ypsi-Arbor hip-hop collective KeepItG Records isn't just a rap crew with a tight handle. The various MCs, producers, musicians, and filmmakers treat KeepItG like a band, with scheduled practices, interlocking their skills and lifting each other up to create audio and visual art.
"The entire KeepItG Records meets and rehearses weekly, and each individual sets up their personal studio time around what’s going on for them at the time being," said rapper Hi Potent C, who has a new album, War Medicine, with KeepItG producer Dyelow. "A lot of the music gets made on the spot, but everyone is always cooking up something on their own time, too. For this specific project, we did a lot of the outlining in person in order to make sure we were sticking to the theme and storyline. From there it made it easier to fill in the blanks separately because we both knew what was needed and expected."
War Medicine is a loose concept record that takes some cues from Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 album, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, and Prodigy’s 2017 LP, Hegelian Dialectic (The Book of Revelation). Lamar's album recounts his rough teenage years in Compton and Progidy's record is named after the philosophical model that posits thesis, antithesis, then synthesis -- or problem, reaction, solution -- is the way to determine "truth" or "the way."
"The personal ins and outs of living and not only the 'good side,'" is how Hi Potent C describes War Medicine's theme. "At the same time, keeping familiarity with people by showing them how to keep your head up no matter how unfavorable things might be going, because we all need that motivation from time to time."
This account of a previous Brian Eno-focused Smell & Tell was originally published February 23, 2018. Michelle Krell Kydd hosts another Eno-themed Smell & Tell on Wednesday, February 19, 6:30-8:45 pm, at AADL's Pittsfield branch.
The temple bell stops --
but the sound keeps coming
out of the flowers.
--Matsuo Basho (1644-1694)
“This one smells like stinky feet!” is not something you want to hear at a perfume-smelling event.
But considering the spikenard essential oil in question was used to anoint the feet of Jesus, perhaps it deserved another whiff.
As the 40 people gathered in the fourth-floor conference room at the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library took another hit of spikenard, something akin to turning water into wine started happening. As the molecules of oil on the sampler strips began to evaporate, people began describing the oil as having elements of licorice, red hots, mint, wintergreen, cough medicine, camphor, turpentine, violets, and fruit.
Welcome to Smell & Tell.
When Angélique Kidjo first heard Talking Heads' 1980 LP, Remain in Light, she instantly recognized the music's deep debt to Africa. That was in 1983, the year the singer had moved from her native Benin to Paris to study music. It was there that Kidjo began to absorb the city's confluence of Afropop, jazz, Latin, and rock, which she has turned it into a 40-year international career touching on all those styles.
That memory of hearing an American band apply African rhythms to art-rock stuck with Kidjo to such a profound degree that in 2018 she released a song-for-song cover of Remain in Light, which has received raves.
Kidjo turned to another inspiration -- Cuban singer Celia Cruz -- for her 2019 album, Celia, which won a 2020 Grammy. But when Kidjo performs at the Michigan Theater on Sunday, February 16, as part of UMS's current season, she'll highlight the Remain in Light project.
While Kidjo was the first artist to reinterpret all of Remain in Light in the studio, Phish's 1996 Halloween concert featured the jam band playing the album live in its entirety. Covering entire records like that is rare, but interpreting Heads tunes has been happening almost since the band debuted. One of the first was by German pop singer and actress Debbie Neon, whose version of "Psycho Killer" came out in 1979, two years after it appeared on Talking Heads: 77, the band's debut.
The next year, Massachusetts' The Fools released a parody version, "Psycho Chicken," and Heads covers have been nonstop since.
Popular groups such as The Lumineers ("This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)"), Smashing Pumpkins ("Once in a Lifetime"), Florence and The Machine ("Wild Wild Life"), Umphrey's McGee ("Girlfriend Is Better"), Widespread Panic ("Life During Wartime"), Car Seat Headrest ("Crosseyed and Painless"), Yonder Mountain String Band ("Girlfriend Is Better"), and Phish again ("Cities") have had no fear of Talking Heads music.
That song and "Once in a Lifetime" are among the most popular covers, but the clear number one is "Psycho Killer," which has been played by Velvet Revolver, Jason Isbell, Barenaked Ladies, Cage the Elephant, Local H, and more.
The "and more" is what we'll concentrate on below: the five quirkiest Talking Heads covers that I found on YouTube, starting with The Fools' fowl take. Plus, check out Kidjo's videos from her Remain in Light record as well as a special bonus Heads cover by a Chicago vocal legend who is also playing the Michigan Theater on February 15.
Hammond B3 player Chris Foreman and Soul Message Band are steeped in Chicago's swaggering jazz-blues tradition
When you hear Hammond B3 player Chris Foreman glide across the keyboard, you can all but hear Chicago's Saint James AME Church congregation shouting behind him. As a performing member of Saint James for 40-plus years, Foreman's music is steeped in gospel and blues, with the added energy of smeary bop lines that evoke fellow organ greats Jimmy McGriff and Jimmy Smith.
Perhaps the only reason Foreman isn't mentioned in the same breath as the Jimmys, or even a contemporary player like Joey DeFrancesco, is that he hasn't recorded a lot as a leader and hasn't spent a ton of time outside of Chicago.
But on Friday, January 31, the Soul Message Band with Foreman, drummer Greg Rockingham, and guitarist Lee Rothenberg will leave the Windy City for two sets at Blue LLama in Ann Arbor for an evening of greasy, feel-good jazz-blues. The group is performing in support of its recent album, Soulful Days (Delamark), which is filled with gut-bucket swagger and interplay so deep that it might touch the bottom of Lake Michigan.
Since Foreman is legit part of Hammond history, we asked him to name five songs by five fellow B3 players and tell us what he likes about the tunes and the musicians.
"It's difficult to exclude a lot of our organ greats," Foreman said, but there's no denying the five musicians he picked are among the top players of the instrument.
Check out Foreman's selections below, listen to Soulful Days, and see a live video of Soul Message Band before they take the Blue LLama stage.
But first, let's start with his beautiful solo-organ tribute to McGriff at his 2008 memorial service.
Last night it felt like Javaad Alipoor's The Believers Are But Brothers started in the lobby of U-M's Arthur Miller Theatre. I was asked by a stranger for my phone number so I could be added to a WhatsApp group chat with a couple of hundred other people I didn't know for a discussion that ran concurrently with the play, including messages from Alipoor.
I complied but instantly questioned my decision: I had voluntarily given up personal info with no questions asked, just as all of us do every day on the internet, and I did so on the same day it was reported that Amazon's Jeff Bezos had his phone hacked by malware sent via WhatsApp by Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The Believers Are But Brothers, co-directed by Alipoor and Kirsty Housley, explores how technology and the internet can make people compliant, reactionary, or radicalized. But Alipoor didn't write Believers to slam our reliance on screens and the World Wide Web. Standing on a minimalist stage decorated by a plastic folding table hosting a computer-gaming setup, a large video screen, and the lurking presence of a headphone-wearing man (Luke Emrey) whose eyes were fixed on his laptop, Alipoor talked about how the internet has always been a part of his life and that he loves social media, even with all the caveats.
“I try not to make work that is either negative or positive, but just to look at what we do,” Alipoor told The Guardian on the eve of the BBC showing a filmed version of The Believers Are But Brothers, which explores the 4chan world that birthed the Gamergate ugliness, the radicalization of young men -- whether brown kids from the U.K. or white boys from California -- and the rise of the alt-right.
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."
Washtenaw County is renowned for its cinema events, from the predominant Ann Arbor Film Festival (March) and the Sundance/Cannes/etc.-affiliated Cinetopia (May) to the new Nevertheless (July), which focuses on female-identifying filmmakers, and all the traveling fests and U-M-sponsored foreign-film series.
But all of those events happen in Ann Arbor, primarily at the Michigan Theater.
Filmmaker Donald Harrison, who runs 7 Cylinders Studio, and multimedia artist Martin Thoburn want to make another part of Washtenaw Country an important destination for cinephiles, so they've launched the annual Independent Film Festival Ypsilanti (IFFY).
"I've imagined a film festival happening in Ypsilanti for almost a decade," Harrison said via email, "but venue options have been limited. Last year Martin expressed interest in starting it with me -- it was especially appealing that the festival's identity would be IFFY -- so we set things in motion."
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:
"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.)