All the Young Doogs: Ypsi trio Doogatron makes electronic music with a human touch

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Doogatron

Building the Perfect Robot: Take one Kyle, add a Stevie, mix with a Mike, and you've got a Doogatron. Photo by Kate de Fuccio/AM1700

Synth music is often a solitary exercise. It's easy enough for one person to program all the music and not have to deal with band dynamics.

Electronic music duos are more common and count influential acts such as Orbital, Mouse on Mars, Autechre, Boards of Canada, Coil, and many more in those ranks.

Less common is a synthesizer trio, quartet, or quintet, but there is a rich history of synth groups, too, from Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Harmonia, Throbbing Gristle, Add N to (X), and Hot Chip. The combination of personalities mixed with live playing over sequenced sections gives the music a more human quality, and Washtenaw County trio Doogatron is part of this lineage.

Stevie, Kyle, and Mike -- family names are for families -- make loose-limbed techno that mixes programmed parts on computer and live playing on vintage synths. The group's sound is elastic and trippy even as it's framed by linear rhythms. 

Doogatron's self-titled debut LP came out Nov. 2, 2018, and the group has followed that with a New Year's Day 2019 mix of original tunes, reworked album cuts, and earlier tunes initially heard on Soundcloud. In February, Doogatron will release the first of at least four EPs/singles scheduled for this year. "Each release comes from one continuous recording session," Stevie said, "so each track will serve as a part one, part two, part three experience," starting with "Before Subsidized Time" b/w "After Subsidized Time."

Stevie gave us the lowdown on Doogatron's history, name, and work process.

The Art of the LP: Record Store Day 2019

MUSIC VISUAL ART REVIEW

AADL Record Store Day 2019

Since its inception in April 2008, fans of vinyl LPs have flocked to their favorite independent shops for the event known as Record Store Day. Created to promote patronage among local music sellers, Record Store Day has grown immensely over the last decade. 

In 2017, AADL got in on the action and began hosting a pop-up record fair at the downtown library. Located in walking distance from Ann Arbor’s three record shops -- Wazoo Records, Encore Records, and Underground Sounds -- AADL aimed to provide vinyl enthusiasts another place to dig through crates, mingle with other music fans, and take a look at the growing collection of LPs available for checkout at the library. 

If you missed us this year, be sure to keep an eye out for our 2020 Record Store Day next April. And if you’re clamoring for more music, be sure to check out AADL's collection of vinyl and CDs, as well as the Ann Arbor Music & Performance Server (AAMPS), where you can download local music offerings.

This year’s event at AADL saw 16 independent vendors cover more than 700 square feet of table space with their sonic wares and the volume and variety did not disappoint any enthusiastic attendees. Local DJ Aaron Batzdorfer spun tunes all afternoon, minus a brief respite where his son Porter stepped in on the wheels of steel. In the library’s Secret Lab, patrons exercised their imaginations and created their own LP album art -- many of which are posted below.

Rock 'n' Roll Heart: JD McPherson at The Blind Pig

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

JD McPherson band

Photo by Jena Ardell

I was a fan of JD McPherson’s music the moment I heard his debut album, Signs & Signifiers, around seven years ago. This was high-energy rock 'n' roll that immediately brought to mind the early masters of the genre -- think Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochrane, Bo Diddley.  

Rural Oklahoma native McPherson specializes in original material, not cover versions, and he and his dynamite group -- together for eight years -- put a fresh spin on music too often thought of as golden oldies, something safe and nostalgic. McPherson’s discography is thoroughly listenable and also includes 2015’s Let the Good Times Roll, 2017’s Undivided Heart & Soul (my personal favorite), plus Socks, his delightful album of new Christmas songs released late last year.

McPherson and his band -- bassist Jimmy Sutton, keyboardist Raynier Jacob Jacildo, drummer Jason Smay, and saxophonist/guitarist Doug Corcoran -- were in fantastic form when they played in Ann Arbor last summer as part of Bank of Ann Arbor’s Sonic Lunch concert series, and they return to town this Wednesday, April 17 for a show at The Blind Pig. I caught up with JD McPherson by phone last week as he was getting ready for a concert in Calgary, Alberta and had a lively discussion about everything from favorite recording studios to Socks to the reasons behind his rock 'n' roll sensibility.

Joe Hertler and The Rainbow Seekers rocked their weekend residency at The Blind Pig

MUSIC REVIEW

When Pulp talked to Joe Hertler in March 2017, he explained that for him and his group, The Rainbow Seekers, “Every show is a celebration in human connection. We are honored to cultivate an experience where people can have fun and be themselves.” 

Two years later, the connection still remains.

Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers played at The Blind Pig on both March 30 and 31, their second two-night stop in Ann Arbor this academic year. Before the March 31 show even began, people were hollering at the band from the floor and taking pictures of flower-strewn stage. 

Harping Through Life: Peter Madcat Ruth celebrates his 70th birthday at The Ark

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Peter Madcat Ruth

A breathtakingly brilliant harmonica player who’s been an essential part of the Ann Arbor music scene for decades, Peter Madcat Ruth will officially celebrate his 70th birthday on Tuesday, April 2. But his big birthday bash will happen two days later at The Ark on Thursday, April 4, when he’ll be joined by an impressive number of special guests for a roof-raising celebration. Joining Madcat at The Ark will be Howard Levy, Chris Brubeck, Joshua Davis, Corky Siegel, Shari Kane, Seth Bernard, Rachael Davis, Drew Howard, Michael Shimmin, Mark Schrock, Dominic Davis, William Apostol, Dick Siegel, and Joel Brown, with the proceedings emceed by WEMU-FM music host Michael Jewett. 

Madcat is understandably best known for his virtuosic harmonica playing, but he’s also a gifted vocalist and just as impressive on ukulele, guitar, and a host of other instruments.

Recently I spoke to the laid-back, always friendly American roots music practitioner about his career, his upcoming birthday bash, and some of the top artists he’s worked with over the last 50 years or so.

Down With Blue Jeans: Tim Sendra talks bubblegum pop and the effort to preserve his brother's legacy

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Blue Jeans' Adult Hits LP and Down's Critically Acclaimed LP

Sometimes you're just too close to a situation to write a clever lede.

Blue Jeans features the married couple Tim Sendra (guitar) and Heather Phares (bass) with David Serra (drums). The Ann Arbor indie-rock trio's second album, Adult Hits, was produced by Fred Thomas and released on his cassette via his Life Like label.

Down MF featured Scott Sendra, Tim's brother, and a cast of friends and family members who helped the late guitarist and singer bringing his singular vision of strong-song-based noise-rock to hiss-filled vinyl. Last year, Thomas assisted Tim in bringing together Down's 7-inch singles for a compilation LP, Critically Acclaimed, released on the Loch Alpine label, named after the Dexter subdivision where the Sendras grew up. (Read an interview about Down's history here.)

I've known the Sendra brothers for 33 years, performed in bands with both of them in the early '90s -- I played bass on the first two Down singles and was in Veronica Lake with Tim -- and have recorded with everybody named in the preceding paragraphs aside from Serra (though it seems inevitable). I grieved intensely when Scott died of brain cancer in 2017. I was deeply thankful for Tim and Fred's efforts to honor Scott's sui generis talent by compiling Critically Acclaimed. There is no journalistic distance between me and these humans. I love them and their art -- and you should, too. That's it.

Blue Jeans rarely perform live, but the group will shake off the rust on Saturday, March 30 at Ziggy's in Ypsilanti to celebrate the release of Adult Hits, which is also coming out on vinyl via the Spanish label Bobo Integral. I talked to Tim Sendra about Blue Jeans' sound, Down MF, and the future of his Loch Alpine label.

Tell 'Em It’s a Party: An Evening of the blues with Sugaray Rayford at Club Above

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Sugaray Rayford

With two Blues Music Award nominations and a new album, Sugaray Rayford has made 2019 his year -- and it isn’t even April yet.

As part of a concert series supporting this year's Ann Arbor Blues Festival (August 16-19), the Texas-born, Los Angeles-based Rayford and his band will be making their first visit to Ann Arbor, promising a fabulous night of blues at Club Above on Sunday, March 31, in support of their recently released album, Somebody Save Me (Forty Below Records).

The entire album is the perfect vehicle for Rayford’s incredibly authentic voice and charisma. The record grabs the listener by her collar and takes her across the Mississippi Delta, through Chicago, to West Coast Swing, down to Texas, and back again. Described as having an “old school vocal style” reminiscent of such musicians as Muddy Waters, Otis Redding. and Teddy Pendergrass, Rayford seems tailor-made for the songs that appear on the album. 

Quite the Panorama: The Kelseys' "Pollyanna" is a joy-inducing song and video about overcoming sadness

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The Kelseys' Pollyanna

The opening lyrics of The Kelseys' "Pollyanna" make it sound like it's going be a song about the devastation of depression:

Underneath all of the smiles 
Lies an emptiness that eats her alive 
Masked by all the joy and the laughter 
Is a voice screaming, "I'm not alright!" 

But by the time the band hits the pre-chorus and chorus, the soaring song shifts into an anthem for overcoming:

She puts her hand around me 
Well, maybe we should go 
Girl, raise your voice up high 
Run run run 
Till we're all out of breath 
from the 
Sun sun sun 
Beating down on our neck 
So 
Look at the horizon 
Quite the panorama 
Don't you ever worry 
Miss Pollyanna 

"'Pollyanna' is kind of a mixed story influenced by multiple people in my life," said singer-guitarist Peter Kwitny. "So many people struggle with things on the inside and put on brave faces to hide what they are really feeling, and I wanted it to be a song that people could relate to on a deep level."

Named after the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, the Ann Arbor quartet is made up of U-M students Kwitny, drummer Josh Cukier, guitarist Evan Dennis, and bassist Liam O'Toole. (The band plays a free concert at Lo-Fi in Ann Arbor on Thursday, March 28.)

Jam on It: Chirp celebrates the release of its debut studio album at The Blind Pig

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Chirp

When Pulp contributor Nicco Pandolfi spoke to the rising jam band Chirp in December 2017, singer-guitarist Jay Frydenlund said the Ann Arbor quartet was recording a studio album that would come out in 2018. 

Fast forward to March 2019 and that self-titled album has finally materialized, and Chirp will celebrate its release on Saturday, March 23 at The Blind Pig. 

Check out the video for "Greener," the first single from Chirp's new studio record, and listen to the live album the band put out in 2018, recorded June 30 at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival. Also, you can read an interview about the studio album's making over on the This Is a Good Sound blog.

Kind of Blue LLama: Norwegian trumpeter Mathias Eick opens Ann Arbor's new jazz club

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Mathias Eick and his album Ravensburg

When musicians write compositions, often they aren't able to hear a fully fleshed-out arrangement until it gets in the hands of their bands.

Norwegian jazz star Mathias Eick plays trumpet, vibraphone, double bass, guitar, piano -- and he sings. This means Eick gets to arrange and hear nearly every part of his gorgeous, evocative, kind-of-blue songs before he brings them to his band.

"I usually make full demos of the music playing all instruments, and I then have a wide understanding of what’s going on with the other guys once we start playing the new compositions," Eick said. "I've always thought that's an advantage."

Eick may play something other than trumpet, his primary instrument, when he becomes the first artist to perform at Blue LLama Jazz Club, a brand new music space in downtown Ann Arbor. But he'll likely leave the other instruments to his ace band: Nikolai Eilertsen (bass), Håkon Aase (violin), Erlend Slettvoll (piano), and Torstein Lofthus (drums).

Aase and Lofthus appear on the trumpeter's latest album, Ravensburg, his fourth for the legendary ECM Records, which has forever specialized in the sort of cool, colorific music at which Eick excels.