Kelly Jean Caldwell Returns to the Outer Limits Stage to Celebrate Birdie LP

Kelly Jean Caldwell is not dead. The singer, songwriter, and owner-operator of Hamtramck’s Outer Limits Bar and record label laughs as she tells me a rumor of her death has been swirling around town. “The other day, someone at the bar was asking what’s the next show coming up,” she explains, “and they [the bartender] were like, ‘oh it’s the Kelly Jean Caldwell/Loose Koozies record release show, and the person was like, ‘Oh, I thought Kelly Jean Caldwell died.’” Conversely, Caldwell is one of the liveliest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to. A mother of two, she gracefully floats between answering my questions and ogling a unicorn drawing made by her daughter, Birdie, the namesake of her latest record.

Although Birdie was released in December of 2020, the record never received a proper release show due to the pandemic. So, this Saturday, June 12, Caldwell will finally play the record live at Outer Limits, joined by Monica Plaza and best friends and label mates, the Loose Koozies. Originally scheduled for last July, Caldwell explains that this show feels like a triumphant return after a year and a half of playing alone or to a computer screen. In a similar way, Birdie feels like a triumphant return to the studio after her last album release, Downriver, in 2016. She says that this record finds her at her strongest as a musician, person and a mother. “I am getting older I’m getting stronger, I’m a better musician, I’m a better lyricist,” Caldwell explains. “I feel like I’ve definitely come up as a musician. I’m more confident than ever.”

Part of this transformation is owed to Caldwell’s deeper exploration of the flute over the last few years. “My flute teacher changed my life,” she says. Though she’s played flute for years, Caldwell says taking lessons completely changed her perspective on the instrument and songwriting in general. She was pushed to go outside her comfort zone and learn things she hadn’t tried before, like reading music and playing classical songs. After months of practicing three hours a day, Caldwell’s lessons culminated in a classical flute recital at Outer Limits where she donned her wedding dress and played a full classical repertoire accompanied by friends.

This transformative experience, in tandem with all the frightening and beautiful events that accompany motherhood, helped shape the colorful sound that characterizes Birdie. The album’s title track opens with swooping layered flute melodies, reminiscent of the magic and innocence of childhood. “All those ’70s rockers have songs about their daughters but you’re not sure if it’s about their lover or their dog,” Caldwell laughs. “I was like, ‘I wanna write one like that… a creepy song about my kid.’” But, honestly, the song leans more towards tear-jerky than creepy, especially when guided by Caldwell’s instinctively poetic lyrics.

She opens the song with a dreamy description of motherly love – “Sunshine follows my flower all the time/Blue eyes water my dreams ‘til summertime.” The song then opens up into a ’60s rock-type tempo, seemingly mirroring the fast-paced and sometimes chaotic rhythm of parenting. Bright guitars and Caldwell’s vivid depictions welcome the listener into a world of vibrant colors and endless possibilities. You can imagine Caldwell running around in the backyard with her daughter, blowing bubbles and creating their own world together, especially when she sings, “She’s got glitter in her hair/She grows flowers everywhere.” She’s able to capture these moments of pure happiness like a firefly in a jar and distill them into a few simple lines.

But, ever the honest songwriter, Caldwell makes room for both the precious and ominous sides of motherhood in Birdie. She explains that “SIDS,” one of the most musically upbeat sounding tracks on the record, is about being terrified that her son was going to pass away in his sleep. “I was really obsessed with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome,”explains Caldwell. “This was about my son and he obviously survived. But, when you have a new baby, you really, or at least I, felt like they were so close to death. I really felt like they could just switch back to the other side at any moment.” 

Unless you’re really listening, you wouldn’t notice the somber nature of the song, and that’s exactly how Caldwell meant it to be. “I didn’t want it to sound sad because I didn’t want people to worry about me,” says Caldwell. “So it’s probably the most upbeat rockin’ song I’ve ever written.” She explains that channeling her worries into music was the most natural way she knew how. The song’s fuzzy guitars and punchy chorus melody beget a story of hope and tenacity while Caldwell’s trepidatious lyrics ask the morbid question: “Does it call you back/Do the stars attack/Or will the dark dream continue?” 

As a musician who has never been anybody but herself in her songwriting, Caldwell’s vulnerable lyricism allows listeners to connect on a deeper plane. Even if you haven’t experienced motherhood and the anxieties that come with it, you can relate to the paralyzing fear of loss and the euphoric happiness of being with someone you love completely. “I think that, weirdly, the more specific you get about things, the more people relate,” says Caldwell. “The more personal that I make things and the more truthful, the more people feel it.”

Follow Kelly Jean Caldwell on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Reginald Hawkins Celebrates Queer Liberation with “Tricks in the City” Video

Photo Credit: Hailey Kasper

Reginald Hawkins has always wanted to be a pop star. As far back as he can recall, he remembers going by “Popstar Reg” to anyone who knew him and performing at any chance he could. However, it wasn’t until February of 2019 that Popstar Reg was introduced to the world-at-large with his debut single, “Playing for Keeps.” Since then, Hawkins has expanded on his brazen electropop with “FRESH” in 2020 and his latest single and video “Tricks in the City,” released on March 26th. In “Tricks in the City,” Hawkins embraces his sensuality, addresses systems of oppression, and pays homage to Black queer culture. 

“Every time I release a song, it’s like a different era,” explains Hawkins, “it’s just really a reflection of who I am right in that moment.” And right now, for Hawkins, that person is an artist in the midst of immense transformation and learning. Growing up in a small suburb of Detroit, Hawkins attended a primarily white high school and didn’t have any friends who were Black and gay like him. As part of two marginalized communities, Hawkins felt himself assimilating to his environment as a means of survival. But since moving to Detroit in 2018, Hawkins has surrounded himself with artists and friends with shared identities and values and created his own community – the Tricks in the City – which catalyzed a period of vast growth. 

“This is the first time that I’ve been in an environment that is gay and Black all the time,” says Hawkins. “Being able to talk openly about the shit that we’ve gone through, as gay Black people…that helps me to break it down and just learn more about myself.” The “Tricks” are Hawkins and his roommates, who are all creative forces of their own. The video opens with Hawkins surrounded by his best friends in formation around a sleek Range Rover. With icy glares and impeccable style, the Tricks embody glamor at its purest form. With his crew in tow, Hawkins goes on to outline his ideal man, sparing no declaration of self worth: “If you wanna chance with me you better fly me overseas boy/Take me on a shopping spree/I got some big designer needs boy/Front row at fashion week London to Paris boy.” 

Hawkins explains that while this song is, in part, about knowing your worth and trying to find a good man in a small city, it’s also about breaking down oppressive structures and finding his true self. “It’s about understanding how I am being impacted by these systemic issues of colorism and racism and homophobia – internalized and external. And how can I not be an active factor in continuing to make those things happen to myself?” he says. “As you let go of those things that weigh on you, you inherently become a more confident person and learn about yourself and love those parts of yourself more.” 

Tackling systematic oppression within the confines of a pop song sounds like a daunting task, but Hawkins does it with ease, weaving cries for freedom between silky synths and pulsating drums – “Decolonize my mind, I am focusing on gettin’ paper/I’m all for that generational freedom that’s all I’m sayin’/I’m here on the right track just a Black man with some education.” His delivery is as fierce as his fine-tuned Voguing that follows in the breakdown. Hawkins explains that it was important to him to incorporate such an iconic part of queer culture into a visual that celebrates his identity. 

“I wanted to really highlight gay culture and show this really queer expression of ballroom and voguing,” says Hawkins. “That is our culture – especially as Black gay people in the United States… If this track is about freedom and decolonization and accepting my gayness and my blackness intersectionally, I need to really include that part of what that means.” 

In peeling back stifling layers of oppression and connecting with the history of his queer community, Hawkins has begun the journey to becoming his highest self. “As I slowly began to shed those layers, it revealed this more real and truer version of who I am,” says Hawkins. “I’ll never forget the person who I was. That person still defines me and is still in me in a certain way. But that person is freed now.”

Follow Reginald Hawkins on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Detroit Artists Keep the Music Coming During Quarantine

courtesy of Vinny Moonshine

As we move deeper into the quarantine vortex, Detroit musicians continue to use their open schedules to release new songs. While most things are still up in the air, it is a simple comfort to know that there will always be a steady stream of more music. From Saajtak’s experimental jazz stylings to Zilched’s apathetic noise pop, this smattering of releases shows the breadth of Detroit’s creative well. I’m at a bit of a loss for words this week, so I reached out to the artists to give us a little insight into what the music means to them. Enjoy!

“Unknown Landscape” – Vinny Moonshine

“’Unknown Landscape’ is Vinny Moonshine’s first collaboration with the group Future Trash and was recorded at Medieval Times studio in Detroit a couple months before the pandemic. The song is a deranged lounge mantra for a failing world – as the title suggests, it describes the confusion of living in strange territory, tearing away from the past, moving forward into an uncertain future. The individual often feels tethered to preconditioned states of being; in the song, the ground breaks apart. The road ahead is paved in gold.” – Vinny Moonshine

“Hectic” by Saajtak

“Hectic” is the first music video of Detroit art rock band saajtak (pronounced “sahge-talk”), whose music has been described as an impressive, explosive combination of electronic music, free jazz, opera, noise, and chamber music. The video, composed of iPhone footage and 35mm stills, was shot, edited, and directed by Pittsburgh filmmaker and crooner Elliot Sheedy with additional visual processing by saajtak’s own keyboardist, the multimedia artist Polyhop. You can find the members of saajtak working on their debut album or recently collaborating/sharing stages with the likes of My Brightest Diamond, Deadmau5, Meshell Ndegeocello, Xiu Xiu, John Maus, Toshi Reagon and more.

white ceilings – whiterosemoxie

“I’m surrounded by white ceilings. Every room, every studio, every basement that I have grown in, created in, partied in… they all have white ceilings. My life has been full of people putting limits on me, constantly putting a ceiling on my potential. This project is about those ceilings and how they don’t actually exist. The only ceiling I allow in my life is white. A white ceiling is a ceiling undefined, a ceiling whose limits have no definition.” – Moxie 

“Sleeper” – Zilched 

“’Sleeper’ is basically about biting your tongue in conversations that make your eye twitch. I wanted the music to reflect that repetitive, performative communication where you’re internally screaming or rolling your eyes but outwardly you just go along with it. Maybe you tell yourself you won’t put up with it again but chances are you will.” – Chloë Drallos (Zilched)

“Get Your Love” – Jacob Sigman  

“‘Get Your Love’ was one of those songs that happened all at once. It’s about falling for someone you’re not supposed to, like someone who’s already seeing someone else. I was in that situation and just needed to vent and the whole song just kind of came out that one night. I spent the next month trying to re-track the vocals because I had recorded them on a shitty sm58 but, couldn’t recapture the emotion from that night, so I kept them the same.” – Jacob Sigman

“Last Money” – Sam Austins

“I wrote ‘Last Money’ about times when I wasn’t able to have shit. My money was so low, my back was against the wall so I had to find a way to make the bread. The song and visual takes you through the journey of the bottom, the quick come up, and how fast it can all turn. The inspiration behind these different scenes is that I wanted to take scenarios from TV shows, movies like The Wire & The Dark Knight, and use it for the narrative of ‘Last Money.’ I turned my seemingly normal life into a visual experience, based on the media we used to watch as kids… plus getting away from the feds in my joker fit was fucking amazing.” – Sam Austins

Quarantine – Ytl77232 (Prada Leary)

“This project ‘Quarantine’ is the first under my new artist name YTL77232 (formerly Prada Leary). It’s a newer sound that I’ve grown into over time with smooth and aggressive beats throughout. I made half of this project in Cali and the other half in Detroit. Changing my name is an evolution for me. The YTL means young Timmy Leary and the 77232 means Prada in T9 text. I hope you all enjoy the growth.” – YTL77232

Detroit’s Local Artist Community Responds to Quarantine

Curtis Roach Photo Credit: Myron Watkins

It’s been a week since the “Shelter in Place” mandate was issued by Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer, but many Detroiters have been self-quarantined for much longer. Most businesses have closed their doors, thousands are out of jobs, and you’re likely to see more plastic bags blowing in the wind than actual people on your daily walk. Put simply, shit is getting dark. But, the incredibly thin silver lining to all of this is the output from Detroit’s creative community. Whether it’s pre-planned new releases, quarantine-inspired songs, live streams or covers that are helping them cope, these songs offer a temporary solace from the ‘rona blues.

If you are working from home and have a little extra to spare, don’t forget to support these and other musicians via Bandcamp or by buying merch, as many have lost income due to venue closures/not being able to tour! There are also many artist coalitions you can donate to that will spread the love to those in need – NPR has a great list of those here.

“Just Wait Till Next Year” (John Maus cover) – Primer

Electronic producer and songwriter Primer (Alyssa Midcalf) shares her own haunting rendition of John Maus’s “Just Wait Till Next Year.” Midcalf’s melodramatic vocal style is a perfect match for Maus’s twisted lyrics, which seem more righteously delivered by a female voice anyway. Midcalf’s synth-driven production style adds a lush urgency to the track that feels especially pertinent to the times.

“The song is the most honest and vulnerable song about longing and the frustration and aggravation that comes with it that I’ve heard. It resonated with me, but I also felt I would be able to do it justice. And making music is the only thing I’ve been doing to cope with the reality of being in a global pandemic.” – Alyssa Midcalf

“Bored in the house” – Curtis Roach

Detroit-based hip hop artist Curtis Roach accidentally created a viral TikTok that perfectly sums up what most of us are feeling right now. The sound from the original TikTok has been used by a myriad of celebrities – Tyga, Keke Palmer, Chance the Rapper and more – and has even developed to a full-on Curtis Roach x Tyga compilation. Roach’s sunny personality and inherent sensibility for beat and melody make him a magnetic internet personality, and someone to reference when you need a little cheering up.

“How ‘Bored in the house’ came about… I really made that out of pure boredom. There’s nothing more, nothing less. I make funny tik toks all the time and this was one of those times where I was just bored and didn’t know what to do. I come up with melodies all the time. I’m an artist first off, so it’s natural to me. If I’m going for a walk, I might sing a little melody about me going for a walk, or when I’m brushing my teeth, I might write a melody about that, so it’s like, super natural to me. I made it like a week and half before we were all on lockdown going into quarantine. I didn’t know that all of this was going to happen, this is all new to me like it’s new to everyone else, so the reaction, like everybody using the sound and celebrities posting it…it’s just like tremendous, it’s super incredible it’s crazy, it’s kind of overwhelming. I’m just appreciating the blessings from everything coming from this.” – Curtis Roach

“Beyond” – Anya Baghina

Beloved Detroit songwriter and frontwoman of the band Soviet Girls, Anya Baghina shares a song from her eponymous solo project. The recording is as haunting and distant as the song’s muse. Baghina’s intrinsic talent for detailing ordinary heartbreaks in crystal clear metaphor truly hits from unexpected angles. Ultimately, it’s a song for reflecting, wallowing, moving on.

“Recorded live to a 4 track tape recorder, ‘Beyond’ embodies the desperation of finding the answer in fading relationships. A liberating yet conflicting moment when you realize that something or someone doesn’t hold the same meaning anymore. As our reality is being disrupted and redefined by the pandemic, the things that we value are changing. Maybe just temporarily, but hopefully for the long run too. This song identifies with the feelings of loss through acknowledgment and reflection. Something we can all relate to at this time, unfortunately, because of the shared trauma we are experiencing.” – Anya Baghina

“Steal My Sunshine” (Len cover) – Ben Collins

Minihorse frontman and songwriter Ben Collins blessed our Instagram feeds with a subtle and sweet version of Len’s “Steal My Sunshine.” The stripped-down performance is a departure from Minihorse’s lush garage-rock layers and showcases Collins’ calming vocals.

“There were a few songs I used to sing at karaoke with my old bandmates, and ‘Steal My Sunshine’ was something that Leah Diehl (Lightning Love) and I attempted once or twice. It’s an amazing song, but also lyrically dense and nonsensical which I love. I had a bunch of cover requests come in over Instagram, and some were really amazing songs, but as a pathologically lazy jerk, I went for the one I already knew. And with the looper, I’m able to sing my own backups, which is fitting during this lonely apocalypse!” – Ben Collins

“The Ice Creams” – The Ice Creams

Multi-disciplinary artist Emily Roll joined forces with their partner, Fred Thomas, to compose and record an entire punk EP in all of ninety minutes. It’s grungy, ironic, creepy, and, at times, hilarious. I love it.

“So, Emily and I have worked on a bunch of different creative pursuits together over the years, playing together in Tyvek, doing performance pieces, etc, and since a lot of stuff is on hold right now for everyone’s musical output, we just decided to jam in the studio space I work at last Sunday night. A pressure/frustration/anxiety release. We didn’t start playing with any musical concept outside of long ago coming up with ‘The Ice Creams’ as a sick name for a potential future band. We jammed and recorded for about an hour and a half, not really improvising or writing songs, but some weird trance-like version that incorporated both. If we hit on an idea we liked, we’d try it a few times. We recorded the entire session and later pulled out the most realized takes. Emily played synth and sang, I played a floor tom and a snare drum. We posted a few videos on our Instagrams that night and several unrelated people told me it reminded them of the soundtrack from a movie from 1980 called Liquid Sky. We will probably jam again and hopefully play a show or two whenever shows begin again.” – Fred Thomas

“Existence” by Carmel Liburdi

Folk-pop songstress Carmel Liburdi shared her original song “Existence,” a soothing and reassuring tune about harnessing your true self and focusing on gratitude. Liburdi’s charming and sweet demeanor is a perfect match for this uplifting song that sprinkles a little hope into the void. She sang the song for a series called Lullabies for Detroit,”  a Facebook group dedicated to spreading peace and wisdom in the community.

“When I wrote that song I was feeling sentimental about the people and experiences I’ve had in my life and, as cheesy as it may sound, how grateful I am for all of it. It’s such a personal and meaningful song to me, I felt it would be good for Lullabies From Detroit because of that intimate feel. I really want/wanted to offer a sense of comfort and capture the feeling of the ups and downs of life and how we can transcend the tough times. There is so much uncertainty, loneliness, and anxiety in a time of isolation like this, it felt good to connect—even virtually—and share those personal feelings, as a way to tell people I see them, I hear them, I care, and that we’re all connected in our shared human experience.” – Carmel Liburdi

“6-Step Program” – Mathew Daher

Nothing is more welcomed right now than a chance to give your mind a break from the madness. Detroit-based experimental multi-instrumentalist created this truly hypnotizing sonic and visual experience to do exactly that. Entitled “6-Step Program,” the film welcomes the viewer into a mindful meditation exercise. Possibly enjoyed even more if you burn one before watching.

6-Step Program from Matthew Daher on Vimeo.

“‘6-Step Program” is a meditation both about and born of pandemic-induced isolation, uncertainty, and channeling restless energy.

Amidst this social distancing, it feels like ways of social and physical connecting that we’ve taken for granted have become objects of fantasy and longing. I’ve been really curious about what kinds of fantasies of physical togetherness and touch people are having right now. I’ve also been thinking a lot about people in addiction/recovery communities for whom orders to isolate bring up particular challenges to the refuge they take in the community.

This track is built off of raw drum audio that I phone-recorded on a whim as I was blowing off some steam at the drum kit the other day. The grooves mused me into a couple late nights down an electronic rabbit hole. They drew out these layers and textures colored by the surreality and sense of uncertainty that has been unfolding, as well as the digital outpourings of pain, tenderness, and care between people navigating this crisis.” – Matthew Daher

“When the World Ends” – Jack Oats

Justin Erion, aka Jack Oats, channels angst, worry and existential dread on this original song. Erion’s emotive delivery encompasses a universal feeling of anxiety as he says the things we’re all thinking.

“For the first time in many of our lives, we are faced with a sense of impending doom. We’ve learned the history, we’ve heard about the devastation of our ancestors, and now sadly it’s our turn. Some of us have prepared mentally and situationally, some of us are falling apart in disbelief at the collapse of our normalities. Life feels on pause, as we await to continue to grow. Who knows… maybe this is the end of the world. And who knows which world will come to be next.”  – Jack Oats

PLAYING DETROIT: Six Tiny Desk Contest Submissions from Detroit

Audra Kubat reps Detroit in NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest this year. Photo by Daniel Land.

For indie bands on the rise, it’s become a rite of passage to perform a live set in Bob Boilen’s office as part of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series, which has been ongoing since 2008. But since 2014, the inception of an annual contest to discover new talent has allowed unsigned acts to get a piece of the action, too. Not only does the winning band get a chance to play for the esteemed All Songs Considered host, NPR also sponsors a national tour, often with life-changing results. Past winners have included Grammy-winner Fantastic Negrito (2015), Gaelynn Lea (2016), Tank and the Bangas (2017), and Naia Izumi (2018). With thousands of submissions, the contest seemingly pulls talent out of the woodwork, attracting artists from all different backgrounds and styles. Here are six artists based in Detroit that threw their hats in the ring this year. The winner will be announced this month. Good luck!

Audra Kubat

Detroit folk mainstay Audra Kubat breaks hearts with her chilling rendition of “Oh Mother.” Her graceful delivery and wise lyrics recall sitting alone in a deserted dive bar or falling asleep to the sound of rustling leaves.

Allye Gaietto

Singer-songwriter Allye Gaietto showcases her earnest writing style and crystal clear vocals on “Soon,” an unreleased song she performed for her Tiny Desk submission. The lyrics here are just devastating and Gaietto delivers them with a range of emotion, gliding from a shimmering falsetto into a strong belt that could move mountains. It’s a genuine, beautiful performance.

Strictly Fine

Up-and-coming seven-piece funk/alt-jazz group Strictly Fine go through a full range of emotions in their performance of “In My Life.” All seven of them squished into a room to perform their unique genre of music, which includes a full horn section, jazz croons and a whole lot of funk.

Greater Alexander

Greater Alexander’s soothing folk music is perfect for this stripped-down setting, with just his vocals and acoustic guitar. “Smoke” sounds like a gentle hymn that starts on the ground and drifts into the clouds.

Carmel Liburdi

Carmel Liburdi shares her brand of folk music in her eccentric song “One Too Many.” The song showcases her knack for storytelling and almost circus-like performance style that combines theatrics, timeless rhythms, and mouth trumpet.


Handgrenades strip things down for their submission, opting for acoustic guitar, muted drums, and a xylophone. As always, the harmonies are on point and the band is super tight. The video is filmed in what looks like the band’s practice space, full of different synths, concert posters and somebody’s cat, making it feel like you snuck up on them for an intimate glimpse into an everyday rehearsal.

PLAYING DETROIT: Mayaeni Makes It Out of the “Quicksand”

Call it the Lady Gaga effect: a promising young artist is “discovered,” signed to a label, and goes on to achieve viral success, leaving audiences and artists alike set on the Cinderella story of being picked up and swept away by music industry magic. This romanticized version of making it big is, unfortunately, a statistically unlikely outcome for the thousands of artists that sign to major labels or get “discovered” by industry giants. For every superstar in the making, there are plenty of artists that have been there, seen the shiny silver spoon, and then given it up for more artistic freedom. Detroit-bred songwriter Mayaeni has seen both worlds and spent the last year discovering the pros and cons of both.

After being signed to Jay-Z helmed major label Roc Nation in 2012, Mayaeni found herself newly independent over the past year. Without the constraints and hoop-jumping that comes with being signed to a label, she began the ambitious project of releasing one song a month. Starting with the soulful, optimistic “Better Than Yesterday,” a song that she says she started while she was still signed, Mayaeni traded state-of-the-art studios for her home studio. She wrote and produced eight songs, only missing a few months. Her most recent release, “Quicksand,” shows her evolution as a songwriter and producer, without the weight of others’ decisions on her shoulders.

“It’s been nice to have that freedom,” says Mayaeni. “There are pros and cons to each side, but I love having all the creative freedom, being able to put stuff out and not have it go through twenty different opinions first.”

The gorgeous, undulating single highlights Mayaeni’s ethereal vocals, melodic sensibility and poetic lyricism. She says that, with these releases, she’s more concerned about the songwriting rather than production. “It’s interesting, because I play electric guitar… I do like to ‘rock out.’ But I became so much about ‘I am this female rocker’ and trying to translate that into my music,” says Mayaeni. “When I realized that, I started pushing myself more to write basic, naked songs.”

While “Quicksand” doesn’t feel empty, the purity of the song leaves space to hear Mayaeni and her message loud and clear. She’s singing about the weight a lot of us feel in life, and wading through the sludge to get to the other side. “I always try to wake up with the sun / but on some days I’m still drowning in the mud,” she sings early in the song. But she doesn’t leave listeners without a shred of hope, instead deciding to end on a positive note. “It’s a blessing if I can learn to stop the stressing / no use in drowning.”

Ironically, a few days after the release, Mayaeni’s basement home studio flooded. She says although it throws a wrench in her plans, it’s not going to stop her from recording and releasing new songs. “Life happens, you just gotta keep trying,” she muses.

Listen to “Quicksand” below.

PLAYING DETROIT: JUNGLEFOWL Confront Abuse and Offer Healing on Secret Society EP

Ypsilanti-based rock outfit JUNGLEFOWL breaks its two-year silence this Friday with the release of Secret Society, a hard-hitting survival story that breaks down abuse cycles and finds a way out of them. Melissa Coppola (vocals and drums) and Stefan Carr (guitar) have spent three years writing and fine tuning this EP, resulting in an approachable hardcore sound that can bite but then heal the wound.

Even though JUNGLEFOWL is often billed alongside heavy punk acts, the band breaks the conventional punk mold with Coppola’s tremulous, full-bodied vocals and Carr’s glam-rock guitar riffs. All of Coppola’s lyrics are delivered with a punch, though never too warbled for the listener to miss her message. And that’s what Secret Society is at its core – a message. First, it’s a message to the person or persons who have wronged Coppola, letting them know that she isn’t defeated – she’s channeled any manipulation or abuse into an arsenal of strength which pierces through her music with a vengeance. Second, and most importantly, it’s a message of solidarity to others who have suffered (or are still suffering from) abusive relationships. Coppola stresses that the EP’s story isn’t exclusively autobiographical, but pulls from her and others’ experiences with pain and recovery.

Each song is an opportunity for catharsis for anyone who feels trapped or angry or in need of processing. Secret Society is as much a work of musical art as it is a tool for healing. Take a deep breath, let go, and scream.

We talked with Coppola about the process of making Secret Society and what the EP means to her. The band will celebrate the release on Friday, November 9th at Ghost Light in Hamtramck, Michigan. Read Coppola’s strong and honest words below and stream the EP here, exclusively, before its official release.

AF: I read that this EP was recorded over three years of fine-tuning and adjusting — do you feel like you still relate to these songs the same way three years later? Has anything changed or do you still deeply connect with this music?

MC: I definitely still relate to the songs, though certainly differently now than when we first wrote them. Reflecting back on the whole recording experience, I think the most interesting part for me was how clear the narrative became when we started discussing the track order. I honestly hadn’t given much thought to the themes or concept when I was writing them, but in those later conversations, I realized that these songs were a therapeutic unpacking of some traumatic experiences.

AF: In a recent interview, you describe the record as a survivor story. If you feel comfortable discussing, what types of survived experiences do you mean and why did you want to bring them forth?

MC: I think, for the first time in my life, I feel comfortable sharing this publicly, hoping that other survivors might hear some of these themes – and my unpacking of them – in our music. I’m hesitant to call the story entirely autobiographical, though some of it certainly is. I am a survivor of domestic abuse. After a physical assault I endured by an abusive partner years ago, I was connected with SafeHouse Center, and was lucky to receive months of counseling services. I remember learning about the cycle of abuse and the power and control wheel… what was insanely difficult for me was coming to terms with the fact that I was not alone in my experiences. So many others had gone through – and still are going through – the same things, over and over again. I eventually stopped blaming myself for falling into these traps and accepted that it wasn’t my fault for not knowing I was being manipulated. Every now and again, I have conversations with close friends who are also abuse survivors and have gone through similar experiences… and the parallels are always eerie to me.

I decided to call this group of songs Secret Society, inspired by my state of mind after getting out of a bad situation I didn’t ever think was a problem until my life was threatened. It felt like I had been kept underground in a secret cult that consisted of only two people, with no contact with the outside world, and no awareness of the strange and cruel treatment I was being subjected to. Many of these songs change from first-person to third-person within a single section, suggesting how hard it is to know which thoughts are your own and what you’ve been told to believe when you are healing.

The record starts with “Crumble,” a survivor sharing and owning their experiences. The rest of the songs trace backward in time with emotional snapshots; “Bad Habit” is a recognition of the toxic cycle, never feeling good enough, and apathy. “Frontline” is an angry breakup dance done with a smile, while a soundtrack of doubt, regret, and negative talk play steadily in the background. I think “Mojo” has taken on multiple interpretations over the years, but originally, it was a sort of desperate plea for attention while being actively dismissed. “Chopping Block” calls to mind a feeling of being trapped, of being convinced you have no escape.

AF: As a classically trained pianist, do you have to access a different part of yourself to switch gears and write vocal melodies and lyrics?

MC: Absolutely. As a pianist, I really don’t do much composing at all, but I can sight read sheet music easily – so that has allowed me to play and learn from what some of my favorite songwriters do (Carole King, Billy Joel, Ben Folds) and appreciate them on that level. In Junglefowl, I feel totally disconnected from my classical training, which is totally refreshing. I love being creative with writing melodies, and I find that it’s much more like writing poetry than music because I’m usually more focused on lyrics and rhythm than I am with melody.

Since I’m a singing drummer (and not a virtuoso drummer by any means), it’s super important that my lyrics fit into my beats in a reliable way; working around those parameters requires me to be creative already. If I can’t sing my lines and play drums easily, I always keep the option open to change words to make them fit in a way that’s accessible to me and my style.

AF: In “Frontline” you say “I want to have a war with you” – who are you addressing and why the confrontational approach?

MC: For one thing, I think I’ve been learning how to own my anger and feel rightfully indignant, and songs are probably the safest way to express that… But also, I pictured this war as a sort of imaginary one, where you are fluffing your proverbial feathers, telling your friends how “over it” you are, spinning a tough-guy rendition of your breakup and how you’re ready to fight your ex – but inside, you’re insecure, still hearing the echo of their voice saying, “You’ll never make it without me…” and trying to overcome it.

AF: Why do you think you’ve gravitated towards a more hardcore sound as your medium?

MC: I’m not sure. I don’t listen to much hardcore! I think it’s something we’ve settled into over time – Stefan and his guitar style and loud fuzzy tone certainly have a big impact in our overall feel. For this record, I think it fits well, since a lot of the material thematically is heavy, so it is reflected in the sound.

We always have trouble describing our sound to people because it does sort of change from song to song, but I’d agree that we’ve fallen on the heavier side of rock as of late… we’ve definitely been having a lot of fun whipping our hair around. It will likely continue to change as we continue to write and record.

AF: What’s it like creating music and being in a band with a partner? Do you think it makes the creation process easier or harder or neither?

MC: [I’ve been asked this question a few times over the years – and I want to be transparent about the fact that this is not the first time I’ve been in a band with a partner, and the last experience before this one was completely different – absolutely awful. I just want to be clear that I am not speaking generally, like band relationships are the greatest and that everyone should try them.]

I feel super lucky to be able to play in a band with my partner. I think the most important part of being an effective band is mutual trust amongst its members, and that’s definitely something Stefan and I have cultivated over the years in our relationship. By this point we’ve settled into a writing process that works – Stefan writes lead parts, I offer suggestions or tweaks, and we jam and write the form together. We record a rough demo on a phone, and I write lyrics to incorporate at next practice. We make a pretty decent writing team.

That said, we’ve certainly had band and writing disagreements, but I don’t think it’s much different than conflicts we’ve had in other bands we’ve played in (and we both have other projects we’re actively a part of). The most important part of our partnership is that we know how to communicate effectively (or try, at least) and work issues out. Sometimes, that means identifying if there are additional factors – like stressful life things – that are affecting our workflow.

In the recording studio,  I think it’s a huge benefit to be in a band with my partner. I tend to get down on myself if something’s not quite working out the way I want it to, and my partner usually knows what to say to get me past the rut.

Another benefit? Working out who pays for band costs and how much each member gets paid after a gig is never a problem… we share a bank account!

PLAYING DETROIT: Anya Baghina Asks “How Do You Do It?” on Intimate Solo Debut

Detroit-based songwriter Anya Baghina (Soviet Girls) released her debut solo single this week – a gentle, haunting rumination on what today’s fast-paced “hookup culture” can do to the psyche, entitled “How Do You Do It?” Baghina’s dreamlike vocals narrate her internal turmoil on the subject, where she weighs the possibility of momentary companionship against the lingering feeling of loneliness that follows. “At times it can be empowering, especially as a woman,” says Baghina. “And other times it can feel like the complete opposite and leave you feeling empty.”

Baghina captures the feeling of emptiness with her dissonant melodies and repetitive song structure. Instead of feeling redundant, Baghina’s repetition of lyrics and chords lulls the listener into a numb hypnotic state, like being frozen by indecision. “I wanted to create a dreamlike, subconscious atmosphere to demonstrate how this confusion can haunt you and reoccur to make you question other beliefs,” says Baghina.

The song’s stripped-down production – sparse guitar, vocals, and organ – adds to its eerie nakedness, while Baghina’s voice imitates the tension of artificial intimacy followed by a rushed goodbye.  She sings, “Wake up and listen to yourself / wake up and watch for lonesome theft,” framing a fleeting romance as an escape from solitude. In the end, Baghina isn’t offering a judgment or a solution, just a question: “How do you do it and walk away?”

PLAYING DETROIT: Shady Groves Release Dreamy New Singles Ahead of Hiatus

Shady Groves – the culmination of Detroit songwriters Adam Fitzgerald, Dylan Caron, Jeff Yateman, Jamie Dulin, Colt Caron, and Sage Denam – recently released two singles from their upcoming record, Dreamboat, and both are worthy predecessors for an album with a title that hints at serenity. “Quiet Wolf” and “Backflips” stand on their own as separate entities – perhaps even representative of different genres, due in large part to the fact that each member of Shady Groves has a hand in composing songs, and each bring disparate styles to the table.

“Backflips” offers a fusion of shoegaze, funk, and electronic elements that join effortlessly to create an ambiance of nonchalance. The mantra of the song (“back and forth, knowing it doesn’t matter”) isn’t specific; Fitzgerald (on vocals) could be referring to love, inner turmoil, the actual act of making music – any number of things, really. The lulling synths and hooky beat settle into a casual, unbothered rhythm befitting the song’s terse themes.

“Quiet Wolf” taps into a different side of the band, with Caron’s vocals vulnerably recounting a journey down a path of self-destruction: “I want to clench my fist so fucking tight / Around that bottle of gin all day and night / I’ve been through this before.” Whether it’s a coping mechanism for a broken heart or a boomerang of a behavior pattern, the song accurately wraps the feeling of desperation and dependence into a tiny bow and presents it to the listener with a subtle emotional wallop.

All of the musicians in the band also release music under their own solo projects, and Caron’s latest also happens to bear the name Quiet Wolf (Yateman performs as Jemmi Hazeman both with and without the Honey Riders; Fitzgerald makes solo work under the name Quells). There’s no doubt the band is going places, both figuratively and literally – Fitzgerald is plotting a big move to Edinburgh, Scotland, though the band plans to continue writing music together from their home base in Detroit, even across the Atlantic. Keep an eye out for Dreamboat, which should see release sometime in the fall before the band goes on its official hiatus.

PLAYING DETROIT: This Summer’s Hottest Releases You Might’ve Missed

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

Summer Like the Season released “Wakey” in July via PopMatters. Photo by Allen Zhang.

As we all know, it’s impossible to keep track of all the incredible music being released on a regular basis, even on a local scale. Instead of focusing on one particular release, I wanted to do a roundup of some seriously solid Detroit artists who released music in June & July. This list spans all genres and shows the deep complexity of Motown’s musical landscape.

Soviet Girls – Filled Up With Nothing EP

This local indie-rock outfit – comprised of Anna Baghina (vocals/guitar), Jonathan Franco (vocals/lead guitar), and Devin Poisson (drums) – released their first set of songs this July and it is a goddamn treat. Teetering somewhere between garage rock and the bright, smart songwriting of the ‘60s (think Beach Boys, early Jonathan Richman), Filled Up With Nothing is a collection of masterfully simple songs, encapsulating the emptiness that lost love, adulthood, and, well, just plain old life can bring, but somehow makes it sound…fun? Enjoy.

Nebr, The Tiger – “w&b”

Detroit hip-hop artist Nebr, the Tiger released an escapist anthem called “w&b,” which stands for “weed and brews.” Sure, it may not be the most cryptic song on the planet, but it’s obviously fuckwithable. Who couldn’t use some weird and a nice brew in THIS economy?

Saajtak – Hectic EP

Consistently impressive art rockers Saajtak offered up their Hectic EP, and it is nothing sort of a sonic masterpiece. Lead vocalist Alex Koi gives a transcendental performance with her ethereal vocals, bending between operatic and punk rock. The title track evokes the mood of its namesake and meditates on the tumult of undying, unhealthy love. “If You Ask” incorporates heavily syncopated beats a la the band’s drummer, Jonathan Taylor. The 7-minute opus is a gorgeous and haunting journey through a myriad of emotions.

Mango Lane – El Diablo

Superfunky indie new-wave group Mango Lane shared single “El Diablo,” a couplet of FTW tracks that will save any shitty day. Its A-Side is a catchy, meaning-fits-all song impossible not to sing along to. The B-Side, “Vacation,” has the same weightless beat with a more grounded theme – wanting to enjoy a vacation but being mentally plagued by responsibilities.

JMSN – “Talk Is Cheap”

Christian Berishaj, a.k.a. JMSN, is a rare and underappreciated jewel of Detroit’s R&B/funk scene. “Talk Is Cheap” is a clap back at all the bullshitters that waste our time – in work, love, friendship, whatever. Berishaj’s no-bullshit message could be easy to miss when delivered by his sweet-as-sugar falsetto, but sinks in deep to anyone who is truly listening.

Summer Like The Season – “Wakey”

Writer, drummer, producer, and all-around talent Summer Krinsky captures restlessness on “Wakey.” What started as a solo effort in 2014 has blossomed into a beautifully balanced quartet complete with Tasha Peace, Scott Murphy, and Sam Naples. The group makes what they coin as “indie art rock bizarro pop,” and I couldn’t describe it better myself. Treat your anxiety-ridden insomnia with “Wakey.”

Legume – Shrug LP

Shrug is a summery, light-hearted, and freaking cute record from local indie-outfit Legume. Channeling some vintage Fleet Foxes vibes, Liam McNitt joins forces with Arman Bonislawski, Paige Huguelet, and Alex Murphy to craft the windows-down sunshine record of choice.


PLAYING DETROIT: “O.D.” on Britney Stoney’s New Video

Detroit singer-songwriter Britney Stoney recently released a video for her latest single, “O.D.” and it’s a glamorous ode to the city she calls home. Only her second single since 2015 EP Native (the other, “GRIP,” was uploaded to Soundcloud last year), the track sees Stoney embracing a sound that veers away from her previous work and into experimental R&B.

Stoney says that the song itself came to life organically. “I wrote the song and my friend Manner produced it. It was very spur of the moment,” says Stoney. “We were just hanging out and he came up with this really simple beat and about an hour later we had a finished song.” The “simple beat” could loop in your head for days, and it fits perfectly between Stoney’s glassy vocals. Her lyrics (“Call me when you want me/Call me when you’re all messed up/Touch until we’re okay/Tell me that you want my love”) linger just as easily and tell a story of infatuation with simplicity and accuracy.

The video pairs gorgeously with the upbeat song and follows Stoney as she wanders through her old neighborhood and dances on rooftops with the city behind her. “The roof I shot on was a building I lived in for six years,” says Stoney. “Recently, I had to move, so I decided I needed to take that view with me. I went through many phases of my life in that building, on that street, so it definitely holds sentimental value for me.”

Shot by Detroit-based filmmaker KATAI, the video juxtaposes grainy, vintage film with vivid shots, giving off the feeling that you could be watching a home video or a Cannes-nominated film. Stoney’s tulle-draped movements seem effortlessly paired with the song’s addictive rhythm; with every repetition of the line “gimme all you got” she leaves us wanting more and more.

PLAYING DETROIT: Sam Austins Teases Next Release

Detroit R&B artist Sam Austins has been completely killing the game since his 2017 release, Angst, and he shows no signs of slowing down. After his recent ode to queen Rhi Rhi’s cosmetic empire, Fenty, he’s gearing up for another mixtape release later this year. But he plans to tie fans over with an upcoming double single release, ROTY, and to tease the single Austins has gifted us with this painfully adorable and nostalgic 1-800-BALL-SAM ad.

The video is a spoof on the iconic Detroit ads for infamous lawyer Sam Bernstein, a Detroit staple in the ‘90s and early 2000s that anyone who grew up in or around the city would immediately recognize. This clever mix of nostalgia and authenticity is part of what has made Austins such an instant local favorite, earning him the nickname “Star Boy” from other Detroit artists and members of his team at Assemble Sound.

A born and raised Detroiter, Austins is all about encouraging the youth in the community here, and he’s hinted that his next release is one “for the kids”.  “I just wanted to give something to my fans that they can hold onto while we finish up another very special project that I’ve been working on,” says Austins. “ROTY will be a soundtrack to the kids’ summer days and nights.”

We’re ready for it. ROTY will be on all streaming platforms on July 20th.

PLAYING DETROIT: Flint Eastwood Finds “Real Love” on Inspiring New Single

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

photo by Shack Shackelford

This week, Detroit’s own Flint Eastwood  – Jax Anderson – released “Real Love,” a powerful song detailing her broken relationship with the Christian church, and how breaking away from it finally gave her the chance to find love and truth. Like many people in the LGBTQ community, Anderson says she felt ostracized by the church because of her sexuality. After years of being told that there was something wrong with her, she decided to cut ties altogether with the church and free herself from what she felt were the judgmental confines of Christianity.

Anderson didn’t take this decision lightly. As someone who comes from a long line of preachers and grew up in the Christian church, separating from it meant much more than not saying her prayers on Sunday. “It was an extremely hard decision,” says Anderson. “I knew that I would be losing a community of people that I’d loved for a very long time and I had a huge fear that it would cause a division in my family, but thank god it didn’t.” She says although she made the split a while ago, this is her first time talking about it and also her first time openly singing about her sexuality. And the timing wasn’t a coincidence.

A few weeks before the song was released, Anderson’s older brother – who is also a preacher – sent her a link to a video of her family’s ex-pastor receiving an award for a “gay conversion therapy workshop” that he hosted for young women who are questioning their sexuality and gender identity. “We were both like, ‘this is ridiculous and it’s terrible that he’s doing this,’” says Anderson. “Especially because it was targeting girls aged 11-13 and that really hit home with me. That was exactly where I was when I was 11.” Understandably outraged, Anderson felt the best way to express her anger was to write a song about it.

She pulled up a bunch of instrumentals sent over by her brother Seth Anderson, a producer who goes by SYBLYNG, and settled on a piano loop that sounded like it came straight from a hymnal. “I sat down and wrote the song in about thirty minutes,” J. Anderson says. “I basically went through all of the ‘fruits of the holy spirit’ – which in Christianity are love, joy, patience, kindness – and said I found all of those in ways outside of the church, not by being a Christian but by being who I am.”

Anderson starts off “Real Love” by singing, “Can I be honest for a minute? Found peace when I lost religion / Found love when I thought I couldn’t.” Her opening lines set the stage for her description of her life after the church – one full of acceptance, love, and freedom. At one point in the song, a male voice says “Love without truth is not love,” exactly imitating the words of the conversion pastor’s acceptance speech, twisting his ill-meaning words back on him to create something positive.

With the help of strong choral voices consisting of Detroit divas Bevlove and Vespre, Anderson manages to orchestrate a reformed gospel song in which the world is her church, love is her God, and truth is her bible. Released just in time for June’s Pride celebrations, “Real Love” serves as a reminder that no one in the LGBTQ community should ever feel alone.

“I just want people to know that they’re not alone and it’s okay to be who they are,” says Anderson. “It’s not as scary as you think.”

Flint Eastwood will play her first Detroit show in over a year this Friday, June 29th with Princess Nokia at MOCAD. Doors at 7pm, tickets $25.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

PLAYING DETROIT: Ancient Language Embraces Change on Third LP ‘HYGGE’

Photo by Paul Stevens

Ancient Language exists on a metamorphic scale, constantly shapeshifting to fit the change of the seasons – or life – of original founder Christopher Jarvis. Jarvis started Ancient Language in 2011 as a solo hip-hop/house project, but in the last seven years his music has gone through many different iterations. Most notably, it has grown from solo work to a six-piece folk/indie rock/electronic amalgamation of virtuosic musicianship and varied tastes. HYGGE, Ancient Language’s third release, is the apex of this musical journey and finds the band at a crossroad between genres, using their lyrical voice for the first time.

The LP is a labor of love, recorded over the past two years in a series of sessions in band member (guitar, sax, and vocals) Matthew Beyer’s basement. The band says HYGGE was made during a time of “profound changes, relocating across the country and back again.” Some of these “changes” were more traumatizing than others, including a time last winter when Jarvis’s whole life as he knew it seemed to be crumbling. “When we started writing the record, my brother Zach and I were kind of in a dark place,” says Jarvis. “We were living in Eastern Market and, in the span of a week, I lost my job, my car got stolen, and we got evicted from our place.”

This series of unfortunate events was the nail in the coffin for Jarvis, who grew up between Warren and Sterling Heights. He explains that, although he’s no stranger to Detroit’s brutal winters, that winter was especially debilitating, and he took it as a sign to run towards the sun. Jarvis and his brother, who also plays in the band, moved in with family in Arizona to try and get their lives back on track. During those months in Arizona, the brothers spent time writing music and sending songs back and forth to Beyer. By the time they were ready to come back to Detroit, they had finished an album.

The Jarvis’s desert retreat seemed to be the escape they needed to create a diverse and enrapturing body of work. Although, Chris says that the music itself has always been his true oasis. “That’s how it’s always been for me – an escape from whatever I’m dealing with.”

Ancient Language will celebrate the release of HYGGE this Saturday, June 2nd, with a show at El Club in Detroit. Peep a single from the record below.

PLAYING DETROIT: Whateverfest Brings Detroit’s Disparate Music Scenes Together

When you think about music festivals, it’s easy to picture giant stages, overcrowded drink lines, and teenagers in various species of headwear. Whateverfest – an all-genre, all-ages DIY festival based in Detroit – is pretty much the opposite of that. Born from a “what if” conversation between friends in 2011, Whateverfest has grown from a few bands occupying every apartment in the Hyesta building to over 40 bands, spanning nearly every genre, playing at the Tangent Gallery. This Saturday, May 12th, the fest is returning for its eighth year and is set to go from 12 pm to 6 am the next day.

The fest’s lineup includes a vast array of Michigan bands as well as acts from Toronto (Rooftop Love Club), Chicago (Aathee Records), and Indianapolis (Gwendolyn Dot). One of the original festival organizers, Soph Sapounas, says that the event’s musical diversity comes from the laissez-faire ethos indicated by its moniker. “Whoever wants to play plays,” says Sapounas. “We’re all just trying to have a good time – it’s whatever. That [word] starts getting thrown around a little too much on the day of but it’s okay.”

Though the organizers strive to be as inclusive as possible, the festival’s popularity attracts a slew of submissions every year, which the team reviews in a democratic fashion. They host listening parties and make sure that the roster of artists performing represents the city as a whole. “We want to be a platform for artists and musicians in Detroit in general. Not just for rock, not just for techno – we want to include all of it,” says Sapounas. “That’s one of the things that keeps recurring, is people telling me that they think it’s really cool to see all the different scenes here and everyone having a good time together and not having that cool kid standoff.”

With groups like Spaceband (a nine-piece experimental funk collective), Ex American (new age electronic), and a handful of techno artists holding down the late-night sessions, the festival undoubtedly reps staple genres Detroit is known for and everything in between. If you’re in or around Detroit, this fest is more than worth checking out. If not, check out some of the amazing under-the-radar artists below – I’m betting they’re more eclectic than your Discover Weekly playlist.

PLAYING DETROIT: Sammy Morykwas Pens Bouncy Ode to Sipping Arnold Palmers

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

Photo by Jordan Isom

Here in Michigan, we are the type of freaks that wear shorts when it’s fifty degrees out. After a long, long winter, the sun has finally graced us with its presence, lifting Detroit from its collective seasonal depression. Just in time for this changing of the seasons, local producer and songwriter Sammy Morykwas released his first solo single, “AP,” and it is, in my humble opinion, the song of the summer.

“AP” is a deliciously nostalgic hip-hop track that flows as easily as those tall-ass Arizona Arnold Palmer ice teas, which Morykwas sings about with impressive ease (try saying Arizona Arnold Palmer five times fast). Railing off totems of yesteryear, like Hi-C, superman ice-cream, and the word “hyphy,” Morykwas brings us back to a simpler time when summers were spent drinking Four Lokos and passing out in a field somewhere. The song’s bouncy rhythm and Morykwas’ clever rhymes make the song feel like a more sophisticated, upbeat version of LFO’s “Summer Girls.”

After one play, you will undoubtedly be singing about Arnold Palmers for days and itching for a carefree summer fling. Listen at your own risk below.


PLAYING DETROIT: Stef Chura Celebrates Record Store Day with Limited Edition 7″

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

photo by Ashley Schulz

This Saturday, April 21st is Record Store Daya day that brings us back to a time when the only way you could hear your favorite artist’s new song was by purchasing it on seven inches of vinyl from your local record shop. That’s exactly how Detroit indie-rocker, Stef Chura, wants us to celebrate the annual homage to vinyl culture. Chura, who released her striking debut album Messes in 2017, is pressing a thousand copies of a new 7″ that includes two songs that didn’t make it onto the LP. Both of the songs – “Degrees” and “Sour Honey” – were produced by Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest and show Chura’s range in emotion, voice, and musicianship.

“Degrees” is a weighty, haunting rumination on mortality that shifts between delicate verses and a blazing refrain. Chura says that the song was originally a plucky folk song, but Toledo had the idea to take it in a Janis Joplin “Ball and Chain” direction, adding gritty layers of guitar that conjure up the image of towering flames.

Falling on the opposite end of the spectrum sonically, “Sour Honey” is a stripped-down solo affair that features Chura’s flickering, elastic vocals accompanied by Toledo on piano. The bare, vulnerable sound is an appropriate match for the song’s subject matter – insecurity and hyper self-awareness.  “I wrote that song when I was working at a strip club in Detroit as a cocktail server,” says Chura. “It was about the visceral, super physical feeling of complete embarrassment and humiliation. I think I used to suffer from a lot of social anxiety and miscommunications, and it was just a very cat-fighty atmosphere.”

The 7″ is a Record Store Day exclusive, which means you’ll only be able to pick it up at your local record store. Chura will perform at Detroit’s Third Man Records in tandem with the release, followed by shows in Cincinnati and Bloomington. Listen to “Degrees” and see Stef Chura’s upcoming tour dates below.

Saturday, April 21st @ Third Man Records Cass Corridor – Detroit, MI
Wednesday, April 25th @ MOTR Pub – Cincinnati, OH
Thursday, April 26th @ The Bishop – Bloomington, IN


PLAYING DETROIT: The True Blue Tackle Post-Breakup Anxiety on “What Do You Think of Me?”

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

The True Blue photo by Nate Sturley

Metro Detroit indie-pop/R&B group The True Blue has a knack for creating sultry songs that hit close to home. The band – comprised of Christian Koo (vocals, keyboards), Ben Wilkins (guitar), Koda Hult (bass), and Jake Burkey (drums) – has been playing together for around six years, but spent the past two years honing the genre-blending, dreamy sound that defines The True Blue.

Their latest single, “What Do You Think of Me?” unfolds like a poetic stream of consciousness, seamlessly combining Koo’s spoken-word delivery and silky vocals. Wilkins’ minimalist guitar riffs act as an anchor throughout the song, whether acting as Koo’s sole accompaniment or buried beneath a layer of distant synths, whirring bass, and boomy percussion. The shape of the song mirrors the agonizing process of ruminating on an ex – overthinking, frustration, and letting go.

Koo, who is known for his honest lyricism, says writing this song allowed him to work through some post-breakup anxiety of his own. “In my heart of hearts I know we’re cool, but [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][the song is] just me putting every insecurity I had about the situation out there and sort of baring it all,” says Koo. “Once you make that fear or worry into something that’s tangible, then you’re able to put it down.”

The fears Koo voices in “What Do You Think of Me?” are all too relatable: “What do you think of me, like if I post online? / ‘Cause if I post a photo it’s right there on your timeline / What’s the initial thought? / Is it good or bad? / Or am I just overthinking everything I thought we had?” For those emotionally mature enough not to block their exes (props to Koo), the immediate self-awareness in an era when so much of our lives is thrown out to the public can be crippling. You can literally see an ant-sized photo of any person who views your “story” and, chances are, if you’re heartbroken, you’re only looking for one.

Koo’s vulnerable and open lyricism is part of what makes The True Blue’s music so magnetic. “The True Blue has always been about staying true to your gut,” says the frontman. “When people tell me that our music has helped them through a rough time, it’s just something that’s really special in a really primal way – it’s like, ‘my soul connects with this.’”

Although Koo says the band is constantly evolving and changing their sound, we can be sure of one constant – relatable depictions of love, loss, and just being human.

Detroit locals can see The True Blue perform at The Pike Room on April 5th.


PLAYING DETROIT: Anna Burch Releases Debut LP “Quit the Curse”

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

photo by Ebru Yildiz

Combine brutal self-awareness, melancholic love affairs, and a natural pop sensibility and you will arrive at Quit the Curse, Anna Burch’s debut album. The Detroit singer-songwriter has spent years paying her dues playing in bands like Frontier Ruckus and Failed Flowers, but seems most at home as a solo act, singing a collection of lost-love songs tinged with irony and infectious hooks.

On Quit the Curse, Burch intermingles quirky candidness with familiar clichés, offering a refreshing take on age-old breakup anthems. Despite their dim subject matter, the songs possess a weightlessness brought on by Burch’s bright chord progressions and the occasional pedal steel swell. This contrast makes the album feel like laying in the sand with a piña colada but also browsing through pictures of your ex and their new partner.

The record reaches its height of beachy-ness on “Belle Isle,” a gorgeous play on cookie-cutter 1960’s surf-pop (complete with time changes and irreverent one-liners) that name-drops Detroit’s much-beloved island park gem. Burch sings “I wish that you would hold me in your arms/Like the night we made out on Belle Isle,” in a sweetly deadpan voice atop sunny pedal steel; equally endearing and amusing, it feels like an inside joke that we’re all in on – one called modern romance.

But the album is not solely a list of sugar-coated grievances. In “What I Want,” Burch hones in on the importance of moving forward and gives herself and anyone else who’s listening some words to live by. “I won’t play the victim just because I can’t get what I want,” sings Burch, followed by “Self-destruction is so played out/So is self-pity and self-doubt,” offering some genuine self-reflection and taking a jab at the melodrama of heartbreak.

Burch’s matter-of-fact line delivery and decade blending instrumentation heed a laid-back listen that reflects the indecision, apathy, and confusion involved in most post-millennium love stories.


PLAYING DETROIT: Jonathan Franco Gets Inventive on Debut LP

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

photo courtesy Jonathan Franco

Finally, someone has been able to put what it feels like to be a 20-something into words and music without sounding devastatingly hopeless. That person is Detroit songwriter, poet, and musician, Jonathan Franco. In his debut album, Swimming Alone Around the Room, Franco puts his deep anxieties, rare moments of euphoria, and goddamn heart on the table for all of us to pick apart and reassemble into our own realities. Written and recorded over the last five years, the 17-track labor of love is a diaristic journey, oscillating between spacious moments of reflection and dactylic snapshots of feeling, accurately mimicking the ebb and flow of, well, real fucking life.

Experimental, yet accessible, Franco uses an unorthodox orchestra – combining traditional instruments with field recordings and experimental sounds – to portray salient feelings and moments. In the album’s stripped-down instrumental opener, “Apartment Pianos,” Franco melds incandescent synths, low machine hums, bells, and indiscernible field recordings to create a feeling of serenity and peace. It’s as if he’s encouraging listeners to clear their heads before delving into the deep and daunting themes that follow, like someone attempting to get their shit together before entering a sweat lodge.

He fully enlists his collage-like composition style on “Applause,” an exploration of mortality and the passing of time. The song starts off with a solo organ note, bare acoustic guitar, and Franco’s vulnerable opening line, “I lay in the grass in a flyover state / Feeling like I am everything you hoped I wouldn’t be,” sang in a low whisper. It feels like Franco is talking to himself here, reflecting on the past and what has led him to this specific place and time. But the ruminative mood becomes unnerving as Franco recalls seeing the ghost of his grandmother over ethereal synths and radio static; the guitar re-enters along with what sounds like a ticking clock or metronome and stack of papers used for percussion. The tension resolves with a sweet trumpet melody at the song’s finish, and Franco is freed from the weight of time – at least for a moment.

[/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

photo by Noah Elliot Morrison

While many of the songs follow this winding, experimental path, Franco also scatters a few straightforward indie-rock tracks throughout the record that reveal considerable influence from bands like Bedhead and The Microphones. Along with alternating between traditional and experimental instruments, Franco occupies different parts of his voice throughout the record. He touches on everything from an apathetic lo-fi drawl in “Wine Lips” to an Elliot Smith-esque falsetto in “Season” and finds a sweet spot in between the two in “18A.”

While Franco adapts a linear storyline into these compositions, he doesn’t sacrifice his poetic lyricism. On rambling stream-of-consciousness tale “18A,” the singer spends north of seven minutes recounting days spent on the same bus and reminiscing about someone he used to love. Throughout the ride, Franco thinks he sees his former partner in various places around town, but he’s not sure. “For my eyes are two weak telescopes and your face is just a crater on the moon / And I hope to see you much more clearly soon,” sings Franco, perfectly encapsulating the disillusionment of estrangement and the longing that comes with it. Although Franco utilizes his talent for metaphor throughout the album, he never comes off as a pompous or melodramatic poet, but more of an old soul who knows exactly what to say.

Add the insurmountable pressure of simply existing to confronting mortality and lost love and you will arrive at the “early adulthood triad.” Franco accomplishes this with “Crashing,” a beautifully unsettling ode to not knowing what the hell you’re doing in life. The song starts out with what sounds like a shower running over a broken transistor radio then shifts to airy vocals and calming acoustic guitar. Throughout the song, Franco’s atmospheric background vocal hovers like a ghost over the lyrics “I don’t know how to keep my world from crashing down.” The phrase is repeated over and over, representing the debilitating paralysis brought on by anxiety.

But, like I said, this record isn’t about hopelessness. It’s about acknowledging and capturing the impermanence of emotions, and that includes the happy ones, too – nostalgia, love, clarity. In “A Topiary,” Franco indulges in replaying messages from loved ones while reminding himself there are still more blissful memories to be made. “I can still call myself young / and it tastes good on my tongue,” sings Franco, atop a collage of bells, knocking, synths, and lo-fi guitar.

At its core, Swimming Alone Around the Room hints that existential dread is sometimes kinda nice. It offers a cathartic safe haven for the uncertain, unconcerned, or over-concerned (so basically, everyone) and an original take on experimental indie music, if confined to any genre at all. Franco’s tendency to shapeshift both instrumentally and vocally elevates the album to a work of art that emulates the human experiences of indecision, change, and growth. 


PLAYING DETROIT: River Spirit Prep Dreamy EP2 for Release

Detroit-based electro indie-pop outfit River Spirit are set to release their second EP, aptly titled EP2, on January 5th. The group – comprised of Vanessa Reynolds (vocals and guitar), Dan Steadman (guitar, percussion, and vocals) and Paul Wilcox (drums) – worked with local engineer and musician Scott Murphy to record a dreamy and uplifting collection of songs. Overarching themes of pleasure, possibility, and perseverance set to ethereal beats and soothing vocals make EP2 the perfect elixir for ridding yourself of 2017’s bullshit and starting off the new year right. I met up with two-thirds of the band to talk about making the EP, finding beauty in darkness, and what the future has in store for the whimsical trio.

Tucked in the corner of the Detroit Institute of Art’s Kresge Café, Vanessa Reynolds and Dan Steadman are just as calming and genuine as their music suggests. After almost ten years of playing together, the two friends have found the perfect balance of energy, easily finishing each other’s sentences to paint a broader picture. With both Reynolds and Steadman playing guitar, the same uncanny balance is found in their music. “Me and Dan have been playing together for such a long time, I feel like we’ve built a way of playing where we’re each occupying our own space,” explains Reynolds. The duo’s cohesive playing style can easily be heard in the EP’s opener, “Winter Song,” a relatable track that captures the essence of loneliness and stagnation brought on by winter winds.

While “Winter Song” leans closer to the side of introspective melancholia, it’s whirling, wind chime outro offers flickers of hope and serves as a smooth transition to the three sanguine songs remaining, mostly focusing on finding joy in yourself and others. In “Set Alight,” Reynolds sings, “You can open doors with your eyes shut / Don’t you realize you are one of a kind.” She explains that the song is meant as a voice of encouragement to a loved one, reminding them to harness their power and not get bogged down by external forces.

This is a theme that the band intended to portray throughout this body of work. “We’re all in such turmoil trying to process the things that have been happening these past few years,” says Steadman. “Being able to enjoy yourself within that is super important.” Reynolds agrees, adding that finding joy can sometimes even be an act of rebellion in this day and age. “I feel like it can be kind of radical to be able to stop and just have fun, or rehearse your music, or do the things you love and be happy.”

Reynolds’ ability to find the light hasn’t come without her fair share of adversity. “There was a period where I was kind of homeless and squatting in spots… it was another time of making possibilities when it feels like there aren’t any,” explains the artist. “As much as it was hard, I felt a lot of optimism within that and I met a lot of amazing people and had a lot of amazing experiences.”

The infectious optimism that Reynolds brings to River Spirit seems to have drawn a series of serendipitous events for the band. When Reynolds, a tattoo artist of over eight years, crossed paths with and tattooed Josiah Wise of serpentwithfeet, the band snagged an opening spot on Wise’s tour. Then, the band’s engineer offered to let them trade tattoos for studio time for their forthcoming LP – hard evidence that if you put good vibes into the world, you’ll get them right back.

The charmed trio has performed with acts like Aldous Harding, Stef Chura, and S (Jen Champion) and plan to spread their wings with shows outside of Detroit in 2018. Until then, look out for River Spirit’s EP2 on Spotify, Apple Music, Bandcamp, and Apple Music starting January 5th or (if you’re in Detroit) check out the band’s EP release party at Third Wave Music on January 12th.

PLAYING DETROIT: Critics Loathe Eminem’s “Revival”

If you haven’t noticed, the past couple of months have seen Eminem emerge from his private life – one I imagine as a healthy balance of dysfunctional family time and sitting in dark corners thinking of puns – to voice his contempt for our country’s governing body via a trail of singles, ending with his first studio album in four years, Revival. Despite the 45-year-old rapper’s most well-meaning(?) attempts at woke-ness and personal reflection, it’s pretty much a general consensus that the album is an over-commercialized political piece at best and a bloated shitshow at worst. However, as a (metro) Detroit-native who grew up on Slim Shady, it’s pretty much a requirement for me to hold an allegiance to him, even in his darkest hour. Which is why, instead of sharing my personal thoughts on the album, I decided to highlight some of the sickest burns from music journalists across the internet, aimed at the diss-master himself.  

It should come as no surprise that the most scathingly brutal, yet not untrue, review came from Pitchfork. The cool kids who crown themselves “the most trusted voices in music” really know how to hit a guy where it hurts – and make everyone agree with them. Rap contributor Matthew Ismael Ruiz gave the record a stinging 5.0, unimpressed by what he deems “overwhelmingly bland hooks” and “cringe-worthy humor.” Ouch, Matthew! What hurts even more is… he’s not wrong. The clever wordplay that Mathers is known for crosses into really distasteful dad-joke territory with lines like, “I’m swimming in that Egyptian river, ’cause I’m in denial” on “Need Me.” Why, Marshall? Why?  

Ruiz closes with a dig at the record’s recurring theme of self-doubt: “Though it’s easy to empathize with his creeping self-doubt, it’s tougher to swallow in the context of an album that ultimately proves that those doubts are correct.” So much for not listening to the voices inside your head.

The New York Times, who I would normally expect to be a bit more subtle with its abhorrence of a subject, was not shy about loathing Revival. The second writer to describe Mathers’ try at a heart-wrenching patriotic ballad “Like Home” as “toothless,” Jon Carmanica also unleashes his wrath on Eminem’s dry puns. “What has long felt like extreme facility with language is beginning to feel like an uncontrolled fire hose,” writes Carmanica, who continues to elaborate on Mathers’ degenerating lyricism with the song “Framed.” “The song is both excellent and reprehensible, a reminder of how sui generis Eminem felt at the beginning of his career, and how poorly he has aged.” Not everyone can be a fine wine.

While Ruiz and Carmanica slay Shady with intellectual insight and polished rhetoric, I really have to give the creativity crown to Brian Josephs of Spin. The common thread that binds the three writers is a shared disapproval for Mathers’ tired pun-game. Josephs asserts that “nearly every punchline winds up feeling as forced as a stranger sparking a conversation at a urinal.” I could say that, as a woman, I don’t know what that feels like, but I’d be lying. Anyway, Josephs further solidifies his descriptive genius by coining “Need Me” a “vomitous sonic Crayola mess,” thereby raising the bar of shit-talking as I know it.

However, probably the cringiest display of public slander is Eminem’s own description of his songwriting process, given to NPR’s Michael Martin.

“When I’m writing, sometimes an idea or a line will pop in my head, and I’ll be like, ‘Yo, that thought is messed up.’ And I either laugh to myself or I say, ‘You know what? That might be just going too far.’  So, have I ever took it too far? I probably have, who knows?”

What we do know is that despite all of these merciless reviews, Eminem remains the best-selling hip-hop artist of all time (and Billboard reported yesterday that Revival is likely to follow suit), so he probably “Just Don’t Give A F*ck” what we think.

PLAYING DETROIT: Anna Burch Releases Video for “Tea-Soaked Letter”

Detroit’s latest indie-pop sweetheart, Anna Burch, just released the music video for her single “Tea-Soaked Letter” along with the announcement that her debut album Quit the Curse will be available on February 2nd, 2018. It’s hard not to be charmed by Burch as she tackles relatable topics like loneliness and poor communication with sunny guitar, burnt toast, and lots of sad balloons. The video is a perfect match for the song’s melancholy-yet-upbeat demeanor, an oxymoron that Burch seems to have mastered.

Falling under the genre Burch coins as “bummer pop,” the song mixes catchy chord progressions found in conventional pop music with candid lyricism that hits close to home. In “Tea-Soaked Letter” the songwriter laments the fruitless game-playing found in many (millennial) relationships. Burch sings, “No you can’t come up/Who am I kidding? I would drag you up,” finally giving up the hard-to-get approach and saying what she actually feels. Whether you need to muster up the courage to say what you really mean or cathartically sing along while continuing to play the game, “Tea-Soaked Letter” is a solid go-to.

Watch the full video below. 

PLAYING DETROIT: Rowan Niemisto Releases “Gradient” EP

Detroit artist Rowan Niemisto has only been producing solo work for a year or so, but he’s already got two EPs and a handful of stand-alone singles under his belt. His latest EP Gradient dropped November 30th, written, recorded and produced entirely on his own. Niemisto deserves some serious props for being able to do it all – and make it sound good. Gradient is an ethereal fusion of soul, jazz and electronica that brings a modern approach to ancient themes of love, loss and nostalgia.

The four-song EP starts with “Without Trying,” a catchy breakup anthem that combines soul and synths. Niemisto maintains the simplistic lyrics and hooky melodies found in classic soul while adding heavy electronic elements that bring the song to present-day. The track’s addictive beat and relatable lyrics can make even the most brokenhearted people feel blasé about losing the loves of their lives – at least for four minutes.

Next, Niemisto bares his jazz influence on “Behave,” a sexy plea to keep a loved one. “I don’t want nobody but you,” could easily trigger an eyeroll if received in the form of a text from the everyday playboy; however, delivered in Niemisto’s sultry vocals, the generally overused line feels genuine and somewhat irresistible. He’s not reinventing the wheel by any means, but paying sweet homage to old-school R&B and jazz with silky falsettos and bluesy electric guitar.

“Behave” is followed by “Flips,” a modern, dreamy track where the listener is invited into Niemisto’s stream of consciousness. Minimalist, vacillating guitar is accompanied by the distant laughter of children, suggesting Niemisto’s yearning for a simpler time. He repeats “Tell me you’ll stay/Say you love me,” in an almost ritualistic way, making his trance-like state contagious.

After these lofty heights, we fall back to earth with “Honeymoon,” the EP’s grounding final track. The song reflects on the inevitable end of infatuation – something that anyone who’s ever been in relationship longer than two months can relate to. Niemisto sings, “I keep hoping that time won’t change us/I liked it better when we were strangers” – an arrestingly honest to capture the loss of a spark. Luckily, it doesn’t seem like Niemisto’s passion for making music will fade anytime soon.