Okay, so they’re not technically from Detroit, but the four-piece garage-psych rock outfit from Blissfield, Michigan is definitely worth a listen. Growing up in a town with a population just over 3,000, Brothers Ian (guitar/vocals) and Daniel Cotter (drums/vocals) bonded with Levi Makula (guitar/vocals) and Echo Goff (bass) over their love of ‘70s and experimental music that wasn’t necessarily abundant in Blissfield. The collaboration resulted in a unique and prolific collective they titled CryFace. Smart Kids, the band’s third full-length release since forming in 2014, is a gorgeous and guttural meditation on political and personal anxiety, written by a group of early twenty-year-olds that are wise beyond their years. This is not your average coming of age album.
“I was thinking about what the current social climate does on a personal level,” Ian Cotter says, “and filtering it through personal anxieties but trying not to lose sight of the broader picture.” Cotter does not tip-toe around his critique of his political surroundings in the album’s title track, starting the song with the lyrics “Nazi scum surround me / But honey / It’s only our Geography.” Set to peppy guitar strums and Ian’s angelic high register, the song possesses a sinister facade of optimism, kind of like smiling at a funeral.
The record doesn’t always stay in the upbeat, psychedelic realm but seamlessly traverses through mood and genre. The fluctuation in sound likely comes from the band’s unique approach to songwriting – both Cotter brothers and Makula all wrote songs and sing on the record. There is no “frontman” or “director,” which is part of what makes the group’s catalog so versatile. The band says they pull inspiration from artists like Leonard Cohen, Talking Heads, and David Bowie. The most glaring Talking Heads reference is in “Lost in the Swell,” a disorienting incantation about mental health with unmistakable Byrne influence in the vocals.
The band’s collective anxiety expressed throughout the album seems heavy for a group whose oldest member is 23-years-old. If anything, it’s a sign of the times, a reflection of a generation characterized by uncertainty and political extremes. “A lot of these songs were written in the midst of this insane world we’re living in,” says Daniel. “I think there’s a definite theme of political anxiety and a fear for the future.” Pulling from an array of monumental musical influences, CryFace captures a present moment with tools from the past. Listen to Smart Kids below.