Brooke Ratliff says she’s no good at writing traditional love songs because “they’re either really mushy, or they’re really sad”—so she doesn’t even try on Volume 3, Mercury Salad’s latest EP.
Instead, the Ypsilanti folk-rock trio of Ratliff (vocals, guitar, percussion), Kurt Bonnell (guitar, harmonica), and Kyle Kipp (bass) explores the uncertainties of a promising relationship on “Best Guess,” the EP’s spirited opener.
“To me, this song could go either way. It could be that it’s unexpected, or it could be that the person is being overly optimistic,” said Ratliff with a laugh. “I wanted to do something sweet-natured and slightly romantic, but I couldn’t go all the way there. That’s why it’s my ‘Best Guess’ this is gonna work out great.”
Business Casual: Crossword Smiles Fashions Classic and Experimental Sounds on “Pressed & Ironed” Album
For their debut album, Crossword Smiles brings a “business-casual” sensibility to the indie-pop world.
The Grand Blanc-Dexter duo of Tom Curless (vocals, guitars, drums, keys) and Chip Saam (vocals, bass, guitars) strikes an optimal balance between classic pop-rock song structures and experimental college-rock textures on Pressed & Ironed.
“We want to show the duality of our lives,” Curless said. “We work day jobs, and then we put the pressed shirts away and put on our Converse [sneakers] and play rock ‘n’ roll.”
With button-up shirts cast aside and well-worn sneakers in place, Crossword Smiles fashions 10 artful, melodic tracks on Pressed & Ironed that remove the wrinkles of the past and provide a smooth outlook for the future.
“Tom and I both take our lyrics somewhat seriously, and I don’t think either of us writes something just to write something because it sounds good,” Saam said. “We both put some thought and work into our lyrics, and it’s awesome when people really pay attention, especially if it makes some kind of impact.”
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.
Artistic Ecosystem: Hava Gurevich exhibits 20 years of nature-inspired art at Matthaei Botanical Gardens
Hava Gurevich beautifully imagines and creates her own artistic ecosystem.
The Ann Arbor artist blends nature’s vibrant colors with unique lifeforms and hypnotic botanical, aquatic, and microscopic motifs to capture a universal interconnectedness.
Those stunning linkages thrive and evolve across Gurevich’s latest acrylic art exhibit, Inspired by Nature: 20 Years of Art by Hava Gurevich, at the University of Michigan’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens in Ann Arbor.
“My work is very aquatic and botanical, but it’s been more botanical in the last few years because I’m not close to any body of water that has life in it,” said Gurevich, whose exhibit runs through Sept. 11 and includes artwork created from 2002 to 2022.
“There’s an intentional connection to nature and an intentional connection to plants and native plants, like prairies and wildflowers, and it’s all of those concepts that are in my work. They’re all here … and the themes all kind of fit.”
For Stevie—with Love and Squalor: Ann Arbor’s Chirp honors late rodent companion on a funky new single
After his pet rat passed away, Jay Frydenlund was at a loss for words.
Instead, the Chirp frontman decided to honor his late rodent companion, Stevie, with a spirited namesake instrumental.
“Stevie the Rat was the most fearless rat that has ever existed, so I wanted to write something about her that represented that,” said Frydenlund, Chirp’s lead vocalist and guitarist. “I started working on it a few days after she died.”
Alongside bandmates Brian Long (bass, vocals), Sam Naples (guitar, vocals), and Patrick Blommel (drums) in the Ann Arbor prog-funk-jazz jam quartet, Frydenlund penned the playful, ardent “Stevie.”
Buoyant electric guitar, soulful bass, and pulsating drums scurry throughout the melodic funk and psych-rock adventures of Stevie’s past.
“I think the energy of the tune represents Stevie’s pretty well,” Frydenlund said. “Brian [Long] lights that song on fire with his bass solo. If Stevie were a bass-playing rat, that’s exactly what she would have done.”
Chirp will share “Stevie” and other fresh, funky tracks during an Aug. 13 show in Ann Arbor’s Liberty Plaza as part of the Concert to Shut Down Line 5. It will be the band's first hometown show since playing Ann Arbor Summer Festival: Top of the Park in June.
For Emma McDermott, people from her past and present provide the ultimate creative inspiration.
The Nashville, Tennessee electro-pop singer-songwriter thoughtfully channels previous relationships and memorable interactions on her reflective debut album, She Likes to Fly.
“I write a lot of my lyrics from my heart … not necessarily as journal entries, but if I’m feeling a certain feeling, and I’m able to put music to it, then it’s almost like being in a musical,” said McDermott, who hails from Ann Arbor and studies commercial voice at Belmont University.
“I do like to write about what I’m feeling, the times that I’ve had, and the people who have come and gone in my life. I write people as muses a little bit, so if I had a relationship in high school, and then I was just reflecting on it during my sophomore year of college, then that’s what fuels the lyrics and fuels the feeling.”
Throughout She Likes to Fly, McDermott chronicles an emotive journey of self-discovery that grooves and glides through life and love. Alongside intimate lyrics, magnetic synth-based instrumentation, and infectious dance-pop hooks, she provides captivating tales that instantly resonate with listeners.
“That’s sort of how it came together, just on its own,” McDermott said. “The songs were written over a span of like two or three years, so it wasn’t like I sat down and said, ‘Oh, I’m gonna write this album about this subject matter.’ It was kind of like a conglomerate sort of entity, and all those songs found their way toward each other to be on the album.”
Out of the "Shadows": Jazz vocalist Olivia Van Goor explores lesser-known songs on her debut EP and returns to Blue LLama
This story originally ran on February 7. 2002. We're featuring it again because Olivia Van Goor will play Blue LLama Jazz Club on July 30.
“None of them are any of the classic standards like ‘Fly Me to the Moon,'" Van Goor said. "I intentionally chose standards that most professional working jazz musicians know, but not all of them. The two that are standards are ‘Willow Weep for Me’ and ‘No Moon at All. ... I did the Detroit Jazz Workshop two years in a row, and the first time I sang ‘Willow Weep for Me,’ and the second time I did ‘No Moon at All.’ I picked my milestone moments with learning the music.”
Those milestone moments also serve as a timeless journey through a spectrum of emotions ranging from hope to heartbreak. Each When The Shadows Fall track waltzes, swings, and bops from one era to the next.
“I was really inspired by Veronica Swift, and she’s one of the best jazz vocalists of the time right now," Van Goor said. "On her last album, she took some musical theater songs that haven’t been taken by any of the legends and turned into standards and did them in that format.
“If you listen to an old recording of ‘Shadow Waltz,’ you’ll notice the style is completely different (from my version). I arranged all of the songs, and that’s my biggest originality to it, except I wrote the lyrics to ‘Hershey Bar.’”
Just Want You to Know Who I Am: Ann Arbor indie-rocker Ceolsige introduces herself to the world on self-titled debut EP
Ceolsige just wants to introduce herself.
“Right now, with my music, all I’m trying to do is just let people know who I am," said Ann Arbor indie-rock singer-songwriter Kelsey Detering, who just released her debut EP under the artist moniker Ceolsige (pronounced see-ole-sidge), the old English variant of her first name.
"Especially, with this EP, I’m not trying to give any specific take on myself or anything. This is a taste of everything about me in one little package. I’m giving people that so they’ll know who I am as an artist. ‘Ceolsige’ is still me, that’s why I chose it. I don’t overthink my identity that much; I just do what feels right.”
Ceolsige eagerly follows her instincts across four honest, mighty tracks that question life, love, and society. The self-titled EP’s introspective lyrics, vigorous instrumentation, and arena-sized arrangements invite listeners to reflect and travel alongside her.
“What comes across a lot of my music right now is uncertainty … because of the age I’m at and time going by. I’m like, ‘OK, what’s gonna happen in my life? Am I gonna meet someone? Am I gonna enjoy things? Are we gonna fix this broken world? Are we going to improve things?” said Detering, a University of Michigan alumna and Ann Arbor School of Rock vocal/piano instructor.
“That gets played up more in people’s minds now, especially because uncertainty in life is heightened everywhere and all the time. I’ve picked up even more on that now.”
Fruitful Experiment: Chris Bathgate explores thematic writing on his new album, “The Significance of Peaches”
Chris Bathgate sees his first album in five years, The Significance of Peaches as "an experiment in thematic writing and recording with limitations … the significance of peaches is not necessarily the thread or some keystone idea. It is like a loose fishing net that I can cast into my life and see what I harvest."
Throughout The Significance of Peaches, released on Ann Arbor's Quite Scientific Records, Bathgate searches for a holistic sense of self while fostering a spiritual connection to the outside world using pithy lyrics and nature-rich imagery set atop a pump-organ-drenched landscape.
“The peach thing is from my total adoration for the stone fruit itself as the corporeal experience of physically eating a peach," said the Ann Arbor indie-folk singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. "But I’m also interested in the peach as a metaphor throughout history. The thing I became most obsessed with was its use as a way to describe the ephemeral nature of life, time and joy, moments, and carpe diem.
In Real Life: Indie rocker Kelly Hoppenjans shares pandemic-era experiences on “Can’t Get the Dark Out”
Kelly Hoppenjans prefers to view love and life through a realistic lens.
The Ann Arbor indie-rock singer-songwriter and guitarist shares a real-life account of pandemic-era relationships, life changes, and personal growth on her introspective new EP, Can’t Get the Dark Out.
“This pandemic has been a really tough time to be alone, and it’s made it difficult to navigate changing relationships, too.," she said. "I wrote ‘Love of My Life (In My Living Room)’ about my frustration with online dating, and a few months after writing it met the love of my life through a dating app.”
Hoppenjans, who relocated from Nashville, Tennessee to pursue a doctorate in musicology at the University of Michigan, said, "By the time I met him, I’d already decided I was leaving town for my doctorate, and I wrote ‘Parallel Lines’ about the irony of meeting someone when I had one foot out the door, wanting to leave town but not him. He moved up here with me, so that worked out in the end.”
On Can’t Get the Dark Out, Hoppenjans dissects past heartbreak, navigates newfound love, and weathers interstate moves across five journal-entry-inspired tracks. The 20-minute EP seamlessly flows through alt-rock and folk-rock sensibilities with forthright lyrics.
“I feel like sometimes when we envision positive things, like love or marriage or children coming to us in the future, we think, ‘That will fix everything,’ like the struggles will evaporate once we achieve those goals. That’s just not how it works,” she said.
“Being in love has brought so much joy to my life, and it’s also one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It doesn’t fix anything magically … all the baggage we bring with us … it haunts us in our relationships, and we work through it together.”