Frances Kai-Hwa Wang reaches for poetry “when argument fails, when there can be no objectivity, when things have become personal”

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

A portrait photo of author Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is next to her book cover for You Cannot Resist Me When My Hair Is in Braids

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang’s new book, You Cannot Resist Me When My Hair Is in Braids, begins with desire and dreams and concludes with anger, love, and home. In the pages in between, the expansive lyric essays travel broadly from Kathmandu, which is “the ancient city of my youth while I am disappearing into summer, fire, and sea,” to the basement of the Detroit Institute of Arts where “we discover the museum’s stash of old film reels.” The essays consider how to have one’s own dreams, embrace identity, experience violence against identity, and engage with family (not to mention ex-family members). 

Leaving a place and leaving a marriage become both a backdrop and an integral part of the essays. In “Texting Nostalgic for Kathmandu,” Wang writes:

Tasty Times: Mercury Salad Explores Delectable Life Experiences on “Volume 3” EP

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Mercury Salad's Kurt Bonnell, Brooke Ratliff, and Kyle Kipp include folky and funky flavors on "Volume 3."

Mercury Salad's Kurt Bonnell, Brooke Ratliff, and Kyle Kipp include folky and funky flavors on "Volume 3." Photo courtesy of Mercury Salad.

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

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Crossword Smiles' Tom Curless and Chip Saam share a compelling assortment of semi-autobiographical and character-driven tracks on Pressed & Ironed.

Crossword Smiles' Tom Curless and Chip Saam share a compelling assortment of semi-autobiographical and character-driven tracks on Pressed & Ironed. Photo by Madeline Curless.

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.”

Sweet and Dour: Ann Arbor's Seaholm mixes pop-punk with dark lyrics on "It's Raining Outside"

MUSIC INTERVIEW

The three musicians in Seaholm standing under an umbrella.

Rain brains: Austin Stawowczyk, Pat Ray, Kris Herrmann are Seaholm. Photo courtesy of the band.

If there was any doubt that a good pop-punk/power pop band can still cut through the musical clutter and make a powerful statement, Ann Arbor-based Seaholm proves it with style.

For example, check out “Cough Syrup,” a terrific single and video from the band’s new album, It’s Raining Outside. In just 2:11, the band offers a tremendous burst of musical energy, memorable visuals, and an earworm (“Can you please tell me what’s going on?”) that will stick with you for days.

It’s Raining Outside is a short, sharp album that displays the band’s talent for combining dynamic musicianship with thoughtful lyrics. On “Weatherman,” the album’s keystone, they sing: “What’s the weather like today? / I want the rain to wash me away / Cleanse me of my guilt and take me home / Say goodbye to the life that I’ve always known.”

Although an earlier lineup did some recordings, It’s Raining Outside fully introduces the current band, which consists of Pat Ray on guitar and vocals, Austin Stawowczyk on bass and vocals, and Kris Herrmann on drums and vocals.

Ray answered a few questions about Seaholm's history and new album via email. 

Human Nature: U-M prof Scott Hershovitz talks philosophy with his kids in the book "Nasty, Brutish, and Short"

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

A portrait of author Scott Hershovitz alongside his book cover for Nasty, Brutish, and Short

Author photo by Rex and Hank Hershovitz.

U-M professor Scott Hershovitz divulges conversations with his two young sons and connects those chats to philosophical concepts in his new book, Nasty, Brutish, and Short: Adventures in Philosophy With My Kids. Among the topics are swearing, sports, racism, and religion.

Hershovitz delves into both questions that his children raise and questions that he and his wife, Julie, face as parents. What makes the book so approachable is that the conversations are set in humous, relatable, day-to-day scenarios. For example, the subject of individual rights emerges when one of the children, Hank, takes ages to decide what to have for lunch after being offered a quesadilla or hamburger:

Shirley Ann Higuchi tells her mother's tale and the bigger story of the Japanese American incarceration during WWII in “Setsuko’s Secret” 

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Shirley Ann Higuchi and her book Setsuko's Secret

Shirley Ann Higuchi illuminates a dark time in U.S. history in her book, Setsuko’s Secret: Heart Mountain and the Legacy of the Japanese American Incarceration.

Through the lens of long unspoken family stories, Higuchi recounts how Japanese Americans were removed from their homes and businesses, then forced to live in one of the 10 concentration camps created during World War II as the result of unfounded security concerns. The memories and trauma of that time are still felt today. 

Higuchi, who grew up in Ann Arbor and went to the University of Michigan, will speak about her book at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library on Thursday, September 22, 6:30-7:30 pm. She is a lawyer for the American Psychological Association, a past president of the D.C. Bar, and chair of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, which operates a museum on the site of the former camp.

In Setsuko’s Secret, Higuchi writes of the camp where her parents met, Heart Mountain:

Ann Arbor musician and artist Jib Kidder conquered AADL's 2022 Summer Game

MUSIC PULP LIFE INTERVIEW

Jib Kidder sits in a blue fabric sling and on a gray yoga ball. He's in his basement, which has colorful puzzle mats on the floor.

He came in like a yoga ball: Jib Kidder hangs out in his basement. Photo by Io Schuster-Craig.

When the Ann Arbor District Library's 2022 Summer Game came to a close on August 28, one name was top of the leaderboard among the record-breaking 10,114 participants:

Jib Kidder.

That name might be unfamiliar to you if you're not into underground electronic music—or missed the 2013 episode of So You Think You Can Dance that featured a guy getting down to "Windowdipper," Kidder's booty-bass track built from samples culled from the Windows operating system.

But for the past 15 years, the man born Sean Schuster-Craig has explored the more esoteric and experimental side of electronic music with relentless vigor while never losing track of the beat. When listening to his music, I kept thinking of the out-there sounds of Aphex Twin and Autechre if they kept their love of hip-hop in the foreground, but Jib Kidder cuts a singular figure as a creative individual.

Whether as a musician, visual artist, video creator, or in the case of our email conversation below, a writer, Kidder approaches his creative endeavors with a slice-and-dice intellectualism that mixes collage, social theory, and humor. (A recent post on his sometimes inscrutable Instagram account features an image with the words "philosophy is just electronic music but words," which seems an indicator of his approach to the arts.)

Kidder cites Weird Al as an early influence, but I have to think avant-garde art and political movements like the anti-capitalist Dadaists and Situationists are right up there, too, alongside his professed love of 1990s Southern hip-hop and, as he told me in one email, "Lindsey Buckingham and Roy Orbison - huge influences." (Kidder is also a classically trained guitarist in addition to being a sampling savant.)

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.

Look Up: Astronomy at the Beach returns for first in-person event since 2019—and will create a comet

PULP LIFE INTERVIEW

A sunset shot in front of a lake with telescopes set up and silhouettes of people.

Photo courtesy of Astronomy at the Beach.

Astronomy at the Beach (AATB) is an annual two-day event each fall sponsored by the Great Lakes Association of Astronomy Clubs. This year AATB will take place in person after two years as a virtual-only event. It runs September 16 and 17, from 4 pm until midnight each day, at the Island Lake Picnic Grounds inside Island Lake State Recreation Area in Brighton, Michigan.

We asked AATB’s communications volunteer Brian Ottum to give us an overview of the event and what we can expect this year.