Ann Arbor electronic-music producer Jack Withers turns sadness into sound on his new album, "The Price of Beauty"

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Jack Withers standing outside next to a street. He has close-cropped hair and is wearing a white T-shirt.

How does an artist alchemize sadness into something beautiful?

Ann Arbor producer Jack Withers ponders this question on his third album, The Price of Beauty.

Withers has released music consistently since around 2019 and is heavily involved in the electronic music community in Ann Arbor as co-president and graphic designer for the Michigan Electronic Music Collective. His music, with influences from Aphex Twin to Flume, ranges from energetic drum 'n' bass to organic ambient sounds.

The Price of Beauty is Wither's shortest album. It's also his most experimental while at the same time feeling the most grounded, perhaps due to a more pared-down sound.

We talked with Withers about his new album, his work, and what’s next.

Future State: The Portingales draw from past experiences on “Paint a Little Tree” album

MUSIC INTERVIEW

The Portingales’ Phillip Campbell and V. Rose Cieri perform “Beautiful Soul” at Ann Arbor’s Big Sky Recording.

The Portingales’ Phillip Campbell and V. Rose Cieri perform “Beautiful Soul” at Ann Arbor’s Big Sky Recording. Photo courtesy of The Portingales.

The Portingales thoughtfully depict the future on Paint a Little Tree.

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.

Friday Five: Human Skull, Molly Jones & Hunter Brown, Dillan Pribak, Broomway, Future Holograms

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Friday Five album covers for the artists featured in the column

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features punk-ish rock by Human Skull, avant-garde sound sculpting by Molly Jones & Hunter Brown, and various takes on electronica subgenres by Dillan Pribak, Broomway, and Future Holograms.

 

Friday Five: William Bolcom, Michael Malis and Virago, Jack Withers, Nadim Azzam, Mark Zhu

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Albums covers for the musicians featured in Friday Five 09-02-2022

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features composer William Bolcom, post-classical new music by Michael Malis and Virago, electronica by Jack Withers, singer-songwriter hip-hop by Nadim Azzam, and a music video for Mark Zhu's recent ballad.

 

Agent Audio: Ypsilanti label AGN7 runs a stealth operation dedicated to drum 'n' bass music

MUSIC INTERVIEW

AGN7 Audio logo

Scrolling through Bandcamp’s releases tagged “Ypsilanti,” it won’t be long before you find a mysterious label called AGN7 Audio that's releasing top-notch new drum 'n' bass songs and albums—along with some techno and dub—by artists from around the world.

Founded in 2015, AGN7—pronounced “Agent"—is one of the few modern labels to focus so deeply on d 'n' b, also known as jungle, which started in the early '90s U.K. rave scene and is characterized by fast, skittering breakbeats and a dystopian-funk vibe.

Despite garnering respect among hardcore junglists, there’s not much AGN7 information or media coverage out there, and the label tends to keep a low profile. So we reached out to AGN7 co-founder and current chief, Aaren Alseri—aka Ronin Selecta in his DJ days—to learn about the label's origin, influences, and future. 

Friday Five: ​​​​​​​PRISM Quartet / Timothy McAllister and Liz Ames, Von Siwel, Doogatron, Flight Patterns, Rosary

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Friday Five album covers for August 26, 2022 featuring PRISM Quartet / Timothy McAllister and Liz Ames, Von Siwel, Doogatron, Flight Patterns, Rosary

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features classical-jazz-new music by PRISM Quartet / Timothy McAllister and Liz Ames, R&B via Von Siwel, techno by Doogatron, emo-indie courtesy Flight Patterns, and synth-pop by Rosary.

 

Friday Five: Othercast, Half Blue, Exy, Insulingod, Not Even Really Drama Students (N.E.R.D.S.)

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Album covers by Othercast, Half Blue, Exy, Insulingod, and Not Even Really Drama Students (N.E.R.D.S.) featured in this week's Friday Five.

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features a smorgasbord of various hops—hip, trip, and otherwise—by Othercast, Half Blue, Exy, and Insulingod, plus musical-theater originals by Not Even Really Drama Students (N.E.R.D.S.).

 

Friday Five: Ki5, Kiyoshi & 3 Steez, Utica, Jonathan Crayne, KUZbeats

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Album covers for the artists featured in this Friday Five: Ki5, Kiyoshi & 3Steez, Utica, Jonathan Crayne, KUZbeats

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features pop-a-cappella by Ki5, hip-hop from Kiyoshi and 3Steez, pastoral ambiance by Utica, '90s-esque alt-rock by Jonathan Crayne, and experimental songcraft by KUZbeats.

For Stevie—with Love and Squalor: Ann Arbor’s Chirp honors late rodent companion on a funky new single

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Black and white photo of Chirp performing live taken by Austin S. Grinnell.

Chirp kicks out the jams, from left to right: bassist Brian Long, singer-guitarist Jay Frydenlund, and guitarist Sam Naples. Photo by Austin S. Grinnell.

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.

Muse Over: Emma McDermott finds inspiration from relationships on “She Likes to Fly” album

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Emma McDermott by Jen Geer Photography. A profile shot of a young woman with brown hair, a nose ring, a contemplative look on her face.

Emma McDermott chronicles an emotive journey of self-discovery on She Likes to Fly. Photo by Jen Geer Photography.

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.”