Gilded Pop: Caviar Gold's "Melancholia" aims for perfection

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Caviar Gold, Melancholia

Caviar Gold's Melancholia is the soundtrack to the imaginary sequel of Pretty in Pink. You can imagine Duckie and Andie sitting in her bedroom and listening to the eight songs on the Ann Arbor trio's debut album as they write poetry and wonder whatever happened to Blane.

Created over the course of nearly six years, Melancholia is awash in moody synths, melodic bass lines covered in chorus effects, and plaintive vocals crooning sorrowful tales. Jason Lymangrover handled the music; Josh Thiele the vocals. Crystal Collins also sings on the album and she's also now a member of Caviar Gold, which celebrates the release of Melancholia with a concert at Ziggy's in Ypsilanti on March 15.

Stream Melancholia below as you read Lymangrover's answers to some questions about how the album was created and how Caviar Gold came to life.

From Hip-Hop to Folk-Pop: Nadim Azzam showcases his hybrid sound on a new EP

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Nadim Azzam band

Nadim Azzam has a lot on his plate. He’s launching a new "music-based, local-focused media company," writing new songs, and doing social media and marketing as part of his day job.

But he’s recently carved out some time to record a five-song EP with the band he’s been fronting in recent years. Even as his new music is adding more electronic elements, he wanted to honor and preserve the sound he’s become known for -- a smooth, seamless combination of acoustic pop and hip-hop.

Azzam makes the blend work perfectly, with a typical song offering up a catchy guitar hook and traditionally structured lyrics that slide directly into a rap break and then back again. He’ll showcase the sound -- and in particular, the songs on the new EP -- at a Blind Pig show on March 15. (CDs will be available at the show; the EP hits streaming services in April.)

Korde Arrington Tuttle and The National's Bryce Dessner examine photographer Robert Mapplethorpe's work through song in "Triptych (Eyes of One on Another)"

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Bryce Dessner and Korde Arrington Tuttle by Pascal Gely

Bryce Dessner and Korde Arrington Tuttle by Pascal Gely.

By the time the singers, musicians, and iconoclastic images of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe take the stage at Ann Arbor's Power Center on Friday, March 15, everything should be in place for the premiere of a new UMS-commissioned work examining the late photographer's work and legacy through song.

But just a little over a week ago, composer Bryce Dessner admitted some tweaks were still being made.

"With these types of new works, the music and the staging and the piece is always evolving," he said. "The ink is still drying, so we can kind of feel that, which I think is exciting. There are some last-minute changes I'm making to the score. By the time it gets to Ann Arbor, it will have settled more."

"It" is Triptych (Eyes of One on Another), a re-examining of Mapplethorpe's work 29 years after the famous obscenity trial over a retrospective of his photographs in Cincinnati -- and 30 years after the artist died of AIDS -- made a lasting impression on a teenage Dessner.

Produced by Thomas Kriegsman at ArKtype, with music by Dessner, libretto by Korde Arrington Tuttle, and direction by Kaneza Schaal, the show also features Grammy-winning vocal group Roomful of Teeth with soloists Alicia Hall Moran and Isaiah Robinson.

Dessner has a Wiki entry full of impressive composing credits; he's performed with new music giants, like Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and David Lang; and he plays guitar in Grammy-winning indie rock band The National, which also plays Hill Auditorium on June 25 in support of its latest record, I Am Easy to Find

I caught up with the prolific musician by phone on the eve of Triptych's music premier at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

Funtime: Photographer Paul McAlpine's "BARE + REAL" captures Iggy Pop at the height of his solo career

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Iggy Pop by Paul McAlpine, Brixton 1986

Iggy Pop at London's Brixton Academy in December 1986. That's steam rising off his body. Photo by Paul McAlpine.

Iggy Pop is a photographer's dream.

The Ann Arbor native's sinewy body, hollow cheeks, intense eyes, and manic contortions make for photos that leap with life.

And that's exactly what photographer Paul McAlpine wanted to convey in his new book of Pop pix.

"BARE + REAL is a book about life -- passion, art, music -- keeping your eyes open and friends near," McAlpine said. "The book is filled with wonderful images that I feel have aged well with time."

McAlpine first shot Pop in 1977 at the first American concert of The Idiot tour in the photographer's native Boston. For the next decade-plus, McAlpine toured with Pop numerous times and amassed a huge collection of concert photographs featuring one of rock 'n' roll's greatest frontmen.

The limited edition BARE + REAL is 236 pages of the best of those photos, plus introductions by McAlpine and Pop, all housed in a 12" x 12" LP-sized slipcase.

I emailed with McAlpine to find out more about BARE + REAL and how he came to be Pop's go-to photographer -- or Jim, as he calls the man born James Newell Osterberg Jr.

Sweetness & Fight: FUBAR leader Randy Tessier steps out on his own with "Sugar Town"

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Randy Tessier

Randy Tessier Explores New Sounds and Old With Solo EP

Area music fans know Randy Tessier first and foremost as the front man for the popular local band FUBAR, but he also works as a solo artist. Five years back he released a solo album called Hold Me Close, and now he’s following that up with a new six-song EP called Sugar Town

The EP showcases Tessier’s love for a variety of musical styles, yet all feature his trademark gravelly vocals and guitar. “It’s Too Late” is a new take on old-school soul, complete with a horn section. “He Lifts Me Up” is bluesy rock, while the title song is catchy acoustic pop. 

Tessier’s songwriting here is ambitious. “Texas Blues” paints a portrait of a young woman trying to escape, while “A Child Asked Me” is an anti-war song. “Incarceration: Marquette County Jail” includes the great line, “It’s not that I’m a spineless man / it’s just that I need help.”

Personnel varies from track to track, but primary contributors to the record include Chris Benjey, keyboards, producer; Geoff Michael, drum programming, engineer, and producer; Kim French, bass; and Don Kuhli, drums and woodblocks.

Tessier answered a few questions about the new record via email:

Civic Theatre’s "Vanya" finds humor in sibling rivalry and Chekhov

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

A2CT's production on Vanya

John Harrison as Spike, Denyse Clayton as Masha, Ellen Finsh as Sonia, and Thom Johnson as Vanya. Photo courtesy Ann Arbor Civic Theatre.

Siblings always have issues.

Sometimes the older they get the testier they become, especially when their paths diverge. 

This idea became the inspiration for Christopher Durang’s Tony Award-winning play Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, a comedy about sibling resentments that takes some inspiration from Russian short-story writer and playwright Anton Chekhov.

Cassie Mann, who is directing a production of Vanya for the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre, March 14-17, said she fell in love with the play when she read it.

Ypsilanti poet Rob Halpern's "Weak Link" connects the personal and the political

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Rob Halpern and his book Weak Link

Cover image: Dee Dee Kramer from Corrugated Love Poem 16: Being Seen (2013)

Ypsilanti writer and Eastern Michigan University professor Rob Halpern considers the relationship between the personal body and political violence in his new book, Weak Link. Through several forms ranging from poetry to numerical essay, Weak Link examines physicality, art, politics, and war, among other topics, and also is self-referential. 

How the writing is working and what it is doing are explicitly addressed and questioned within the text itself. How do we understand and connect with that which we haven’t experienced? How do we go beyond ourselves and situations while still recognizing where we are and what is? What can poetry be and do? These questions and many more populate the collection. 

The text expresses a desire to make connections between the public and the personal, between socio-political issues and the self who is interacting with them. At times reading like a stream of consciousness and at others like a well-plotted argument, Weak Link simultaneously consists of a thought experiment, aspirational view of poetry, and penetrating depiction of reality. 

Halpern expands on his writing and Weak Link in this Pulp Q&A. He will read from Weak Link on Friday, March 8, at 7 pm at Literati Bookstore. 

Where It Starts: A conversation with Miles Okazaki about Thelonious Monk

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Miles Okazaki

Miles Okazaki by John Roberts

Miles Okazaki is among the greatest living improvisers on the guitar. An assistant professor of jazz guitar at the University of Michigan, he has his own deep and well-conceived ideas about rhythm, harmony, and melody. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to sit down with Okazaki to discuss his latest release, a massive six-volume solo-guitar project entitled Work in which he recorded every song by Thelonious Monk -- 70 in total -- with no effects, overdubs, key or time changes.

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of Monk in American music. His approach to harmony, melody, and especially rhythm has influenced virtually every musician who has followed him. It was a privilege to be able to get into the weeds with Okazaki on the topic of Monk’s music.

Our conversation is below, with some edits for flow.

Rhythm and the Blues: Kristianna explores heartbreak stories on "Too Late to Be Sorry"

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Kristianna

Kristianna didn't mean to write a concept record about relationships. The Ypsilanti native wrote the five songs on Too Late to Be Sorry over five years "and once I came up with the concept, I placed them carefully in order to tell the story," she said.

The slow-jam R&B tunes are bookended by two voicemails, which tie together the tale.

"The album concept is all about communication, or the lack of, using telecommunication, and is meant to be heard in the track order," said Kristianna. "So the intro is the girl calling this guy letting him know her feelings through these songs, then you hear voicemails throughout the project back and forth from the female and the male perspective. The outro is him calling back after he listened to the mixtape that was made for him, leaving the listener ready for part two."

Vern Smith’s novel "The Green Ghetto" aims to be an urban Western set in Detroit

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Vern Smith, The Green Ghetto

“Overnight I found my love affair with Detroit slipping away. My worldview changed," said author Vern Smith, speaking of his experience in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City.

Growing up in Windsor, Ontario, Smith said, “Detroit was my second hometown. I started sneaking over the border when I was 11 and found my culture there.  Can’t tell you how many live shows I’ve seen there because it was so easy to access pre-9/11. Then it changed so abruptly and [the two cities] were being kept apart.”

Smith’s novel The Green Ghetto takes place a year after the New York attacks, which was about the same time the former journalist and broadcaster started working on short stories.