Songs to Learn and Sing: Catching up with The Kelseys and KWITNY

MUSIC INTERVIEW

The Kelseys

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.

North Coast Modular Collective and MEMCO release new music and mixes, team for seminar

MUSIC PREVIEW

North Coast Modular Collective and Michigan Electronic Music Collective

With North Coast Modular Collective (NCMC) and Michigan Electronic Music Collective (MEMCO), crafting art and then guiding others on how to do it are at the core of these orgs' guiding principles. 

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:

Judy Banker traces the spirit behind her new country-folk-rock album, "Buffalo Motel"

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Judy Banker

Judy Banker has been a mainstay of the local country and folk music scene for more than a decade when, along with her late husband, John Sayler, she began accompanying the well-known Michigan singer-songwriter Jay Stielstra on guitar and harmony vocals.

Banker continues to accompany Stielstra on stage, but after her husband passed away she also began recording and performing her own songs with a rotating lineup of musicians. Her new album, Buffalo Motel, is a significant departure from her previous two CDs.

While she again recorded at Dave Roof's Rooftop Recording Studio in Grand Blanc and worked with some of the same musicians who have been accompanying her in concert for years, Buffalo Motel, has a more “muscular” sound than her previous albums, to quote her co-producer and son, Ben Sayler. The instrumentation and musical arrangements of Buffalo Motel have a country-rock feel and are both more varied, full than her previous country folk-tinged recordings.

Banker celebrates the release of Buffalo Motel with a concert at The Ark on Thursday, January 9. I asked Banker about the new recording and her songwriting.

AADL 2019 STAFF PICKS: BOOKS, MUSIC, MOVIES & MORE

2019 Staff Picks

AADL 2019 STAFF PICKS: BOOKS, MUSIC, MOVIES & MORE

Below you will see that 41 Ann Arbor District Library employees composed 18,000 words listing arts and culture that made an impact on their lives in this calendar year. While movies, books, and music released in 2019 figured prominently among our picks, we never limit our selections to material from the past year. Not all timeless art can be discovered and absorbed in a mere 365 days, so we're like Master P: no limits.

Guitar Army: "Ann Arbor Revival Meeting" by Scott Morgan’s Powertrane with Deniz Tek & Ron Asheton

MUSIC

Album cover for Ann Arbor Revival Meeting by Scott Morgan's Powertrane

Ann Arbor Revival Meeting by Scott Morgan’s Powertrane with guitarists Deniz Tek and Ron Asheton isn't a new album; it was released on CD by Real O-Mind Records in 2002. But I just discovered that an expanded two-LP and CD version came out this summer on Grown Up Wrong Records featuring three songs not on the original CD version: "Smith & Wesson Blues," "New Race," and "City Slang."

This live album was recorded at The Blind Pig in 2002 and runs the gamut of Morgan's music as well as songs by The Stooges, Radio Birdman -- the incredible Australian punk group formed by Ann Arbor native Tek, who also has a few solo compositions featured on Revival Meeting -- and Sonic's Rendezvous Band's "City Slang." (It's hard to imagine why it was left off the original CD; this essential Fred "Sonic" Smith jam is the only song officially released by the all-star group during its mid- to late-'70s run in Ann Arbor and Detroit.)

The Powertrane rhythm section here is bassist Chris "Box" Taylor, who runs the annual Fuzz Fest at The Blind Pig, and drummer Andy Frost, who was mentored by Ron's brother and fellow Stooge Scott Asheton. Additional musicians include guitarist Robert Gillespie, who played forever with Mitch Ryder, and Hiawatha, singer for the long-running band Cult Heroes, who have only recorded a handful of songs but have kept the Stooges spirit alive in Ann Arbor since the late '70s.

This album is a powerful document of swaggering, soul-infused rock 'n' roll. Check out Ann Arbor Revival Meeting below, as well as a video of the band playing at the Khyber Pass in Philadephia on April 20, 2002, and an interview with Morgan and Asheton on WCBN in 2002.

Lend Him Your Ears: Isaac Levine's Fishpeoplebirds label celebrates the release of a new tape with a little help from his friends

MUSIC PREVIEW

Isaac Levine, Rebeccah Rosen, Kevin McKay, Jacob Rogers, and Lily Talmers

Clockwise from top left: Kevin McKay, Isaac Levine and Rebeccah Rosen, Lily Talmers, and Jacob Rogers.

Despite being a talented multi-instrumentalist and knowledgeable sound engineer, Isaac Levine's recordings and songs have a ramshackle quality. His off-kilter music is so eccentric, quirky, and whimsical that the label "outsider folk" doesn't fully capture the idiosyncratic spirit behind his songs.

Levine's lyrics are frequently surreal, too -- check out his October single "Modular Synth Trucker," a 36-second ode to a guy who drives his semi-truck from town to town playing his synthesizer. That's it, that's the tune.

One of his several bands, The Platonic Boyfriends, even released an album in 2018 called Pee on These Hands.

But Levine is also capable of pointed political commentary, especially involving issues in Washtenaw County, as he talked about with me for his 2018 solo album A Death So Obsessed With Living.

Levine is also prolific, and in addition to "Modular Synth Trucker," this fall he and Dr. Ruby put out the Dragon's Coldness tape on his Fishpeoplebirds label, which has this tag on its Bandcamp page: "label specializing in people that Isaac knows."

Some of the many talented people Isaac knows and works with are playing Argus Farm Stop on Saturday, Dec. 21, to celebrate a new Fishpeoplebirds tape with Rebeccah Rosen's music on the A-side and Levine and Rosen's Dreambag project on the other. Both of them will perform, and so will Kevin McKay -- whose dream-pop single "Headspace" came out in November and was recorded by Levine -- Jacob Rogers, and Lily Talmers.

Check music from the performers below:

High Five: New music from Dr. James Kibbie, Seattle Stomp, Dre Dav, Idle Ray & Ki5

MUSIC

James Kibbie, Seattle Stomp, Dre Dav, Idle Ray & Ki5

Five new music releases from Washtenaw County artists.
 

By day, Kyler Wilkins works for Ann Arbor software company Menlo Innovations. By night, he's Ki5, creating lovely music influenced by hip-hop, electronica, and a capella. Wilkins builds songs from samples of his voice, and while it's loop-based music, it sounds anything but stuck in a loop. As heard on his new Looking for the Sun EP, Wilkins is an expert arranger of vocal harmonies, and his compositions bloom organically into gorgeous sonic flower grooves. Curious to see how Wilkins puts it all together live? Ki5 is the first artist to perform on the first night of Mittenfest (Dec. 27-29 at Riverside Arts Center in Ypsilanti).

 

As a member of Ann Arbor's Towner, Alex Molica makes fuzzy indie-punk that feels Midwestern to the core. The group's self-titled four-song EP from July is ramshackle and catchy with a heart-on-the-sleeve vocal delivery. But "Great Unknown," the first single from Molica's solo project, Seattle Stomp, is a stripped-down, quirky, acoustic-guitar-based song that is built on a repeating, descending chord progression for all four minutes it lasts. Molica has an album-release show for Seattle Stomp's Maudlin Madness on January 3 at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Ypsilanti, but before that you can see Towner at The Blind Pig on December 20 as part of "Decemberween" with Detroit's The Lucid Furs, Ypsilanti's Bubak, and Ypsi-Arbor's You Look Poor! (I'm not yelling; the exclamation point is part of the band's name.)

 

Bring the Noise: Benjamin Miller's Porcelain Hammer and Mark Morgan explore the far side of music

MUSIC PREVIEW

Screenshot from Ben Miller's live performance at Detroit's Eastown Theatre, 2015

Screenshot from Ben Miller's live performance at Detroit's Eastown Theatre, 2015.

It was nearly 10 am on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2019, when I turned on WCBN in my car. The University of Michigan student radio station is a staple in my listening routine, but even my catholic ears were surprised to hear noise icon Merzbow power-sawing his way through two tracks followed by fellow Japanese screechers Otomo Yoshihide and Keiji Haino just after breakfast time.

It was free-form radio at its free-formiest, but it was also a reminder that these Japanese artists -- among others on the outer fringes of music -- helped spawn a Southeast Michigan noise-music scene in the 1990s that, despite the difficult listening, spread through the DIY underground and helped hatch micro-scenes in various basements across the U.S.

The Michigan scene birthed in the 1990s grew up in the early 2000s -- think Wolf Eyes, Universal Indians, Princess Dragonmom -- and began to morph as artists left the state, changed the focus of their music, or left playing in bands entirely. Still, the scene continued to plug away and mutate with new groups emerging such as the more rocking Child Bite and Heavier Than Air Flying Machines, the dark and ambient Evenings, tape-based acts Sick Llama and Creode, coarse electronics from Lidless Eye, and electro-acoustic weirdness from The New Me, Glass Path, and more. There was also the recent Trip Metal festivals, founded by Wolf Eyes' John Olson, which brought together noise freaks, free jazzers, and assorted other sonic cosmonauts in Detroit for three days of plundering earholes. 

And I can't forget Ann Arbor's mysterious Satan Face, an unnamed member of which appears to be responsible for playing Merzbow & Co. on the radio during otherwise pleasant mid-mornings. The Satan Face show Nothing but the '90s! is on WCBN every Tuesday from 9-11 am playing the harshest of the harsh, and that show's playlist could easily include Ben Miller's Porcelain Hammer and Mark Morgan, former guitarist for acclaimed art-rock act Sightings. Miller and Morgan lived away from Michigan for many years, but they've both returned to the Detroit area and are teaming up for a hair-parting concert on Saturday, Dec. 14, at Lo-Fi Bar in Ann Arbor.

Ypsi-Arbor hip-hop collective KeepItG Records caps a busy 2019 with a benefit show and new album

MUSIC

Keep It G Records crew

Members of KeepItG Records this summer in Detroit. Photo via Facebook.

The Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor hip-hop scene is so prolific that it feels like there's not a day that goes by that doesn't feature a new single, video, or concert from one of its artists or collectives. From the Approachable Minorities/Northern Threat Entertainment/734 Saturdays faction and Duke Newcomb's Dojo to Louis Picasso's Hiiigherminds and numerous other associations of DJs and MCs, there's been an ongoing hip-hop renaissance in Washtenaw County the past few years.  

The KeepItG Records troop is among the most productive of these resolutely DIY groups -- and that's not even counting DJ Dyelow creating a beat every day of 2017. In addition to Dyelow, the crew includes producers/DJs/MCs Hi Potent C, DJ Cataclysmic, S.Delli, Aareus Jones, TwoFace Suave, and Caldane.

Many of these artists -- along with Denae, STY, Julia Furlong, and J. Donahey -- will come together on December 14 at Ziggy's in Ypsilanti for a breast cancer research fundraiser. It will also serve as something of a kickoff party for Dyelow and Hi Potent C's forthcoming album, War Medicine. The debut single, "Medicine," dropped December 5, and a new track is scheduled to be released every week until the album is fully out.

Below is a selection of 2019 videos, songs, and mixtapes by artists associated with KeepItG Records to help you play catch-up. 

High Five: Music from Louis Picasso, ZZVAVA, False Figures, Joanna & the Jaywalkers, and Mike Watt doing The Stooges

MUSIC

High Five photo collage

Five Washtenaw County-associated audio recordings that have rung my ears recently:

➥ Ypsilanti rapper Louis Picasso is known for his live shows featuring a full band, The Gallery, and his tunes usually reflect this ensemble approach to making music. But for Picasso's new single, "I'm Not Sorry," he teams with Ann Arbor producer Brooklyn Beatz for a trap-influenced, studio-crafted song that shows off a bit of the rapper's singing voice during the chorus.

➥ ZZAVA and False Figures also hail from Ypsi and both groups play variations of flannel-wrapped indie rock, with the former upping the noise and tempo compared to the latter's twangier, more laconic leanings. Both bands have fine second albums out now -- ZZAVA's Casual Crisis and False Figures' Flat -- and fans of guitar-based songcraft will find much to enjoy.

➥ On the softer side of guitar-pop, Joanna and the Jaywalkers have had a quiet fall after a busy summer. Led by singer-songwriter Joanna Ransdell, the fluid group has absorbed some new musicians this autumn as others have moved on, and the new crew is working on a follow-up album to 2018's The Open Sea Before Me. But you can check out the summer version of the Jaywalkers in a 45-minute concert taped June 19, 2019, at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival by Dave TV's Zone. (In fact, Dave & Co. have recorded a LOT Summer Fest concerts over the past six years; check it out.)

➥ Rounding out this round of releases is a 7-inch that came out on 2019 RSD Black Friday: Larry Mullins + Mike Watt, "1969" (Parts I and II): A Tribute to Scott Asheton. Asheton was The Stooges' powerhouse drummer whose essential skins-smashing is sometimes overlooked because of his brother Ron's killer guitar and bass work -- or that Iggy guy's mean-mugging on the mic. "1969" is a Bo Diddley-fueled jam from The Stooges' self-titled debut, and I'm sure Mullins and Watt kill it on their version -- I just can't find the audio since it's a RSD exclusive. (Check with Encore Records, Underground Sounds, and Wazoo Records to see if they have copies). Mullins is not the U2 guy, but a frequent drummer for Swans, The Residents, Iggy Pop, and others. And Watt was the legendary bassist for The Minutemen who was not only a member of the reunited version of The Stooges, but a frequent performer on tribute concerts to the band, including the 2018 70th birthday bash to Ron Asheton at The Blind Pig. So, until we can find audio of the "1969" 7-inch -- or procure a vinyl copy -- check out the original version of the song set to live footage of The Stooges from the same year.