It’s most inconsiderate of me, barging into Encore Records' new Kerrytown location mid-afternoon on moving day. Staff members labor over empty wooden racks, loading in and alphabetizing the thousands of vinyl LPs trucked over from their former Liberty Street store. A few have been at it since early morning, but all of them have been working overtime for weeks to make this move happen, and co-owner Jim Dwyer takes a break from the action to stand among file boxes and a pile of computer equipment and entertain my questions.
“There’s still a lot to do here, too,” he says. “We’re just unpacking records today, but we don’t have any CD shelves set and I’ve got to put my office together so I can do this month’s sales tax report that’s due in a week. It’s been weird, running a business that’s moving. It’s really like having two or three jobs.”
While proprietors have come and gone, the building at 417 East Liberty has housed a record store continuously for over 50 years. Dwyer and co-owner Bill McClelland are only the latest in a long line of music enthusiasts to keep the vinyl fires burning in that spot. As it turns out, they are also the last. The building’s ownership passed on to new landlords last year, and their vagueness about an upcoming lease renewal convinced the Encore partners that it was time to move, and quick.
This story was originally published on January 26, 2017. Thomas has since moved back to Ann Arbor and has released several more recordings. Check out the entire Tools Crew Live series here.
Fred Thomas is like a library. The Ann Arbor-raised musician has lent his talents to approximately one billion recordings, from his own to his friends' and the many bands who have hired him to produce their records.
When the Montreal-based artist lived in Tree Town, the Ann Arbor District Library frequently lent Thomas assets from its Music Tools collection when he recorded his numerous solo records or those of his various bands, including Saturday Looks Good to Me and Hydropark.
So, when Pulp and the Music Tools crew decided to record musicians performing with instruments from the collection, Thomas was the perfect person to launch the video series: Tools Crew Live. Thomas was back in Ann Arbor over the winter break, and on December 15, 2016, he came to the library’s Secret Lab makerspace and recorded “Echolocation” (from his new record, Changer) and “Cops Don’t Care Pt. II" (from 2015’s All Are Saved), using six instruments from the collection, including synths, effects pedals, and a guitar.
We also interviewed Thomas about his instrument choices and his amazing new album. Changer combines all the elements of Thomas' past work -- raw emotional insights, indie-rock stompers, and electronic evocations -- and manages to be the most personal and cohesive record of his long and creative career.
This story was originally published on November 8, 2018.
Jamall Bufford is one of the most influential hip-hop artists from Ann Arbor. He has influenced many MCs in town with his quick wit, lyrical wordplay, and open-minded stances on social issues.
Previously known as Buff1, he rhymed with the hip-hop collective Athletic Mic League and later helped start the performing arts group The Black Opera. For those unfamiliar with this hometown gem, The Black Opera calls itself "rap’s first performing arts group" and the duo dress as different characters each song during their live shows. Bufford is also a solo artist and his latest album, Time In Between Thoughts, continues in pushing past the typical boundaries in usual hip-hop subject matter by exploring themes like colorism and the dangers of social media.
Bufford, who has performed with Eminem and Mos Def,
performs at the Ann Arbor District Library's downtown branch on Friday, November 16, at 7 pm along with fellow A2 hip-hop artist DaG. We talked to Bufford about how Ann Arbor has influenced him as an MC, whether he’s an activist, and more.
Joanna Ransdell's voice is an audible red light that commands you to stop whatever you were doing and just listen to her sing.
This story was originally published on April 23, 2018.
The 28-year-old Ypsilanti resident's gorgeous vox is dark but mellifluous, swinging from the edge of vulnerability to the side of quietly defiant, using slight inflections and lyrical twists to tell her relatable stories. Ransdell's timbre is located in the Stevie Nicks / Natalie Merchant / Patty Griffin solar system -- a full, pure, powerful projection of beauty injected deep into the universe and straight into all your feels.
The Ann Arbor-raised, Community High School-graduating Ransdell recently released The Open Sea Before Me, her debut album with Joanna & the Jaywalkers. The record is filled with lovely, low-key chamber-folk pop and it's quite a bit different from Ransdell's 2014 solo LP, Open Fire, which fits squarely in the piano-centric lineage of Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, and Regina Spector.
This story was originally published on April 4, 2017.
The Beau Biens would have been entirely forgotten were it not for the single record they released: the "Times Passed / A Man Who's Lost" 7-inch, released in March 1967. While this Ann Arbor-based group didn't last long, and the single wasn't particularly popular at the time, over the past 50 years the record's status as a lost psychedelic classic has grown and grown.
"The Beau Biens 45 is considered one of the best garage band singles of the '60s," said Frank Uhle, media consultant for University of Michigan's Instructional Support Services by day, Ann Arbor rock encyclopedia by night. "A couple of years ago a book was published that listed just about every American DIY record that came out then, and a panel of experts voted 'Times Passed' number 427 of the more than 8,000 records included."
Though it's been bootlegged on several garage-rock compilations, the original 45 is nearly impossible to find. That's one reason why Uhle has reissued the record; another is because he located Joe Doll, the man who had the original master tapes because he was the one who recorded it at WCBN-FM during an all-nighter. Even the first pressing of "Times Passed / A Man Who's Lost" was pressed from a second-generation copy of the tape, so this new edition is even better than the real thing. The quintet consisted of Tom Kleene (vocals), Don Tapert (lead guitar), Tom Hartkop (rhythm guitar), Jim Masouras (bass), and Rick Fine (drums).
Originally a folk group, the Milk River Jug Band, the group's sound got turned on its ear when Tapert witnessed a Rolling Stones concert and only wanted to rock. After some resistance from his bandmates, the group changed its name to The Beau Biens and the train started rolling. The ensembles sound evokes a garage-ier version of The Yardbirds, powered by a fuzzed out Vox amp stomp.
We talked to Tapert about The Beau Biens' beginnings, seeing the Stones, Yardbirds, and The Velvet Underground and Nico, and Ann Arbor in '60s. We also tapped Uhle's bottomless well of local-music knowledge about the '60s Michigan rock scene and how the reissue came about.
GREY GRANT’S NEW OPERA PLAYS WITH THE FORM WHILE CHRONICLING THE JOURNEY AND TRANSFORMATION OF A TRANS-WOMAN
Trees, folklore, Michigan places, Greek mythology, and the trans experience infuse the new opera Michigan Trees: A Guide to the Trees of Michigan and the Great Lakes Region, which is also the name of a guidebook that inspired it. This opera, written, composed, and produced by Grey Grant, depicts the journey of a trans-woman named Orna as she comes to terms with her identity.
A preview of the opera, also paired with other operas and folk songs, will take place at Literati Bookstore on Friday, August 2, at 7 pm.
In the 11-part libretto, Orna travels north to Chapel Rock on Lake Superior, where she becomes a white pine and connects with her womanhood. She also encounters the mystic character of Mother of Trees, which represents and protects the spirit of trees and encourages Orna’s transformation. During her journey and transformation, though, Orna separates into two parts -- Orna, As She Feels She Is Seen and Orna, As She Sees Herself -- which embody the internal disconnect and conflict that transgender people feel, Grant told Pulp in an interview. Then Orna, As She Feels She Is Seen leaves the other half of herself to trek back south, passing Gaylord, Flint, and other cities to reach Ypsilanti, only to realize that she has left her true self wilting on the shore. Again, Orna goes north and becomes one with herself.
During these journeys, Orna communicates her desires, singing:
What's Really Going On: Brooke Annibale brings her questioning progressive-pop to Ann Arbor for a free show at The Ark
Songs on Brooke Annibale’s new album, Hold to the Light, express desire for something that may or may not be there and then both yearn and hesitate to reveal those feelings. Throughout, lyrics question what is really going on and wrestle with admitting reality, voicing thoughts, and letting it all be. With synth, electronics, and both acoustic and electric guitars, Hold to the Light wonders about and wanders among the complexities and feelings between two people.
Annibale is a singer-songwriter and guitarist originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Following her indie-acoustic focus, Annibale is evolving to write and play pop-progressive music.
The Ark will host Annibale for a third time in a free show Tuesday, July 23, at 8 p.m. with donations of nonperishables accepted for Food Gatherers. Pulp interviewed Annibale for her appearance in town.
Six songs strong and 12 inches wide, Human Skull's vinyl debut, Take a Lifetime, is a brief but engaging record that documents the latest developments from an Ann Arbor punk rock band that, as its website suggests, is “probably less punk than you think.” Indeed, their velocity and ferocity get applied to songs with genuine Midwestern hearts beating beneath the leathers, expressing yearning rather than rage and avoiding easy classification.
For two albums -- a self-titled, digital-only debut and the cassette release The Penny and the Ball -- Human Skull has honed a unique style rather than wandering, and Take a Lifetime distills that sound into its most potent, clear-eyed state. Melodies are challenged in interesting ways, each traditional choice countered with a harsh chord or sudden, whiplashing tempo change. At times Human Skull’s riffs can recall early REM if they weren’t bashed out at rollercoaster speed with the band in lockstep around every tight corner.
Guitarist/vocalist Joel Parkkila goes easy on the fuzztone, relying on cleaner textures except when making a point, and his solos are devoid of tired guitar heroics, fitting tastefully into the song rather than wailing above it. Rhythm section Stefan Krstovic on drums and Brent Barrington on bass don’t back him up as much as race him to the finish, and with Parkkila’s plaintive yowl as punctuation, it’s bracing and real.
We emailed with Human Skull about the production of Take a Lifetime, which you can here below.
A round-up of arts and culture stories featuring people, places, and things in Washtenaw County, whether they're just passing through or Townies for life. Coverage includes music, visual art, film & video, theater & dance, written word, and Pulp life (food, fairs, and more). If you're reading this in the future and a story link is dead, look up the URL on web.archive.org; we've cached every post there.
This is a music-crazy post. We have 28 links to various new albums, singles, videos, interviews, and more. Plus, several Ann Arbor Art Fair previews and stories about Washtenaw Dairy turning 85.
For local band Honey Monsoon, music and art spring from the same well of creativity.
That dedication to artistic exploration comes through clearly on the band’s second album, Opal Soul, which offers an engaging, irresistible mix of neo-soul and jazz with some world-music elements neatly woven in. For the album, Honey Monsoon's core musicians -- Ana Gomulka, guitar, vocals, keyboards, music, and lyrics; Taylor Greenshields, drums, percussion, recording, and mixing; Sam Naples, guitar, vocals, and mixing; and Binho “Alex” Manenti, bass and keyboards -- are augmented by a horn section and other musicians for a full, layered sound.
“Opal Soul is very much about reflection and finding the light within,” Gomulka said. “I'm madly in love with exploration, healing, and the journey back to my higher self. Listening to this music is an invitation for all to make the journey with me.”
Both music and lyrics on Opal Soul reward a close listen. One of the album’s highlights, “Sign of Life,” starts out as fairly straightforward pop, then the horns jump into an avant-jazz groove, followed by an acid rock guitar solo, with all the elements ultimately mixing into a cohesive whole.
“Looking for a sign, looking for a sign of life / Looking for a way, looking for my way out / Looking for a sign, looking for a sign of life / Looking for a place, looking for a place where my roots can sprout.”
All the songs on the album deserve attention, but two other particular highlights are “Cloud,” an irresistible, neo-soul single full of gorgeous hooks; and “Clarity,” a compelling song about finding that precious concept and learning to let go of the past that builds to a rich, extended groove.
Gomulka took the time to answer a few questions about the new album via email.