There is an undeniable Paul Simon Graceland vibe veiled in the stripped down honesty of “Clean Up,” the latest track from indie pop darlings JRJR’s unofficial forthcoming record. The band (Josh Epstein, Dan Zott, Bryan Pope and Mike Higgins) have shifted their focus inward and in doing so has found that less is more. Though “Clean Up” is a far cry from their 2015 banger “Gone” it has a staying power for anyone silently wrestling their own inner demons, even without the anthemic production. “Hey, if I don’t go home soon/I’m gonna freak out/And I thought hey, if I don’t clean up/I know I’ll miss out” confesses a defeated Epstein, who has been open about his struggles with anxiety and mental health. Docile and feathery percussions paired with twinkling keys and a somber, hushed guitar, it’s these very subtleties in “Clean Up” that reveal a more vulnerable JRJR. And though we have no doubts that they haven’t completely shed their penchant for showy pop-rock, it’s refreshing to see a band stripped down by experience and growth opposed to commercial success and label pressures.
Dust off and clean up with the latest therapy session from Detroit based JRJR:
Catch JRJR on tour this fall:
Thu, Oct 5 – Chicago, IL – House of Blues
Fri, Oct 6 – Minneapolis, MN – Fine Line
Sat, Oct 7 – Kansas City, MO – Record Bar
Mon, Oct 9 – Denver, CO – Bluebird Theater
Tue, Oct 10 – Salt Lake City, UT – Urban Lounge
Thu, Oct 12 – Seattle, WA – Neumos
Fri, Oct 13 – Portland, OR – Hawthorne
Sat, Oct 14 – San Francisco, CA – Independent
Mon, Oct 16 – Sacramento, CA – Harlow’s
Tue, Oct 17 – Pomona, CA – Glasshouse
Thu, Oct 19 – Los Angeles, CA – El Rey
Fri, Oct 20 – San Diego, CA – Irenic
Sat, Oct 21 – Phoenix, AZ – Lost Lake Music Fest
Sun, Oct 22 – Santa Fe, NM – Meow Wolf
Tue, Oct 24 – Dallas, TX – Trees
Wed, Oct 25 – Austin, TX – Mohawk
Thu, Oct 26 – Houston, TX – WOMH
Fri, Oct 27 – Birmingham, AL – Saturn
Sat, Oct 28 – Atlanta, GA – Masquerade – Hell Stage
Mon, Oct 30 – Nashville, TN – Basement East
Tue, Oct 31 – Carrboro, NC – Cat’s Cradle
Thu, Nov 2 – Washington, DC – 9:30 Club
Fri, Nov 3 – Philadelphia, PA – First Unitarian Church of Christ
The first taste from JR JR forthcoming fourth record, “Same Dark Places” follows suit with what the duo does best: hook-dependent melodic pop menageries that feel more clever than sincere. If the duo’s 2015 hit “Gone” was a movie trailer for some generic teenage girl coming of age tale, then that would make “Same Dark Places” an ad for anti-depressant medication, the kind where the black and white shifts to color during the narration of common side-effects ending with cartoon bluebirds landing on the shoulder of some hesitantly happy real-life woman in a cardigan.
There are many masterful elements at play here, however, all of which make it nearly impossible to hate this song (which is what I really want to do.) First, there’s singer Josh Epstein’s thoughtful lyrical cadence. The words swell and bounce in such a way that his inflection alone could be listed in the credits as an instrument. And then, of course, there’s their reoccurring penchant for crafty arrangement and production. The fusion of Andrew Bird vibes (the layering of manic horns and sorrowful strings) meets The Lion King for Sega Genesis (this I can’t explain) meets that “LIVE. LAUGH. LOVE” wall hanging in your parents guest bedroom (okay, I’ll stop) would fool you into believing that JR JR woke up one day with this exact song, as you hear it now, in their heads. The drums feel like an afterthought and the lack of an end-point or clear resolve sink this track into “can’t-get-it-out-of-my-head-but-I-won’t-remember-it-five-years-from-now” territory. Although it was likely intended to be an anthem for swimming against the current, “Same Dark Places” merely treads water.
Let the light in and listen to “Same Dark Places” below:
There is an undeniable shift in self when the clocks return to their forward position and warmer days begin to outnumber the cold ones. Spring, though different depending on your geographic specifics, happens under the same sky at just about the same time. Perhaps you’re like me and mending a broken heart after the end of what can only be described as a cruel internal winter, looking forward to dusting off, stretching out and starting over. But whatever version of spring suits you best, let these emotionally selected tracks from Detroit’s vast pool of feelings-feelers guide you through the waves of change.
The Bowie-esque closing track on Zoos of Berlin’s groundbreaking return from hiatus, last year’s Instant Evening, swirls like winter’s final snow against new growth on your favorite neighborhood tree. “North Star on the Hill” encapsulates hesitance and imbalance but with a fragility suited for this polarized change in season.
Yeah, okay. It’s no secret that I can’t get enough of Michigan native and songstress/sorceress Anna Ash’s 2016 release Floodlights. Her Lucinda Williams-esque warble and her completely unique vocal warmth could melt the most stubborn frost from the windshield of your equally stubborn ’89 Cutlass. “Player” is timeless and sun-soaked (why do I feel like it could be on the Erin Brockovich soundtrack or, like, Ally McBeal?) but what makes it a great addition to this seasonal transition is her ability to meld vulnerability with hair-flipping “I-told-you-so” vibes.
I’m not the biggest Minihorse fan. Or maybe it was a timing thing when they dropped their fuzzy, lo-fi EP Big Lack last year. But hey. I sort of get it now. “Drink You Dry” is laced with memories of riding around in your girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend’s best friend’s backseat while you may or may not be day-drunk, trying not to get dizzy watching the blur of houses and trees from the lap of someone you met once. It’s an afternoon. It’s boredom. It’s quietly and politely reckless. And in a lot of ways, it’s Spring.
There’s something so nervous and sweet about this 2005 release from one of our most beloved indie pop acts Saturday Looks Good to Me. Led by the incomparable Fred Thomas, “No Good With Secrets” embodies an innocence and aimlessness that tugs on our teenage heartstrings but 12 years later makes space for our adult selves as we still carry those bashfully brazen tendencies to drive by someone’s house (even if they can’t come out to play.)
Maybe I’m getting a little too literal, but there is something perfectly riotous and manic about Deadbeat Beat’s “When the Sun Soaks In.” It elicits that moment you realize you don’t need a jacket to leave the house and how the sight of your own bare arms turns you on. A fusion of a 1960’s beach party and a 90’s make-out session, this track is equal to smelling salts or pheromones for our shared and stagnant winter coma.
The truth is, I’ve spent more time over the past two years trying to convince myself that I like JrJr than I have actually spent liking JrJr. The verdict? I don’t get the hype or the Warner Brothers continuous record deal. This song, however, is insufferably Spring and is so infectious that you may as well make an appointment with a licensed physician or psychiatrist because even when the song ends the whistling will go on and on and on…and on. I’m sure you’re wondering why a respected music journalist with what some would say exquisite taste would include something that makes her so despairingly nauseous on a playlist about Spring. The answer is simple. “Gone” is carefully crafted to make you feel invincible. It’s a look back, a look forward and ultimately it’s about leaving what is truly gone in the dust to never be found again. This will be the last time I ever listen to this song willingly. But maybe for you, the right person in the right moment, you’ll see “the light through the trees.”[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]
If you’ve seen the cover of this month’s TIME Magazine or have recently tuned into any national media outlet, you know that Detroit’s sister city, Flint, is in crisis. Due to corrupt government, dangerous mismanagement, and incompetence, thousands of Flint residences have been poisoned by lead through the water system.
Long story short, Flint was getting its water from Detroit until 2011 when Gov. Rick Snyder, due to economic disparity, decided that Flint would begin receiving water from the Flint river, despite the water’s highly corrosive makeup and the cities aging, weathered pipeline. The water itself is not poisoned with lead, but is so corrosive that it is stripping the lead pipes. Last fall, auto manufacturers refused the usage of Flint water as it was corroding the auto parts, yet it continued to pump into every household, poisoning an entire city. Despite the President issuing a state of emergency and the allocation of 80 million dollars in FEMA relief funds to assist Flint in its recovery, the damage is irreversible.
I know what you’re thinking. What does this have to do with music? Well, nothing, really. Other than the fact that I feel that I bear the shared responsibility of social consciousness as an artist and fellow human taking up space on this floating ball in space. I couldn’t help but search for some convoluted way to draw attention to this issue, while also finding personal solace through the only outlet that I knew. I’ve curated a playlist of “water songs” by Michigan artists with the hope of a healthy resolve for the millions of people around the world who do not have access to safe drinking water, which now include the thousands of children and families of Flint, Michigan. Let these tracks wash over you and extinguish any unwanted fires.
Eddie Logix and Blair French are BLKSHRK. Released last year, Jellyfish on Cassette is an ocean of temperamental pulsations. The project fuses programmed sampled, live takes and improvisation all of which swell. “Arm Floaties (Night Swim)” gives gives the aural allusion of treading deep water.
This alternate take of “Tidal” from 800beloved‘s dreamy sophomore record, Everything Purple, is a trembling and sedated beachside lullaby. Lynch’s breathy vocals paired with the distant and upbeat pop distortions forms the sensation of having a sun stained memory you wish you could return to.
A standout track off of their 2013 album Wormfood, “Water” is drowsy and pleasantly complacent, much like falling asleep in a filled-to-the-rim bathtub. It’s a smug track about the things we normally don’t have the guts to confess about the disinterest in meaningful love and sex. It’s the type of song that demands hydration; a sonic hangover.
Before they dropped the Nascar kitsch, JRJR released Patterns. “Dark Water” is reminiscent of The Shins with hints of Jon Brion, making it both sugary and brooding. The Beach Boys-esque harmonizing and piano crescendo mask the heaviness of the repeated imagery of drowning which makes this bubbly pop track ironic and bittersweet.
One of my favorite Detroit duos, Gosh Pith, channel a sleepy Animal Collective/Vampire Weekend vibe with a track off their 2015 EP, Window. “Waves” challenges the listener to let go, internalizing the symbolic properties of water via a gentle, lapping synth pop track.
The Gories: “Goin’ To The River”
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The Gories formed back in 1986 and were fearless in welding 60’s garage rock with hyper rhythm blues. “Goin’ To The River” from I Know You Fine, but How You Doin’ released in 1990, is defiant and demands rowdiness. This track by The Gories is a perfect example of their lasting and often overlooked influence.
What I consider to be the most under appreciated album in Iggy Pop’s catalogue and one of the most important contributions to post-punk, New Values is full of songs as jutting as this one. “Endless Sea” is particularly provocative. The synth breakdown along with seductive, temperate vocals are the perfect pairing for giving the drugged sensation of literal endlessness.
The Dead Weather: “Will There Be Enough Water”[/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 Dead Weather may be my favorite collaboration from the diverse repertoire of Detroit’s golden child, Jack White. White along with Alison Mosshart (of The Kills) make for a sexually hypnotic rock experience. “Will There Be Enough Water” is a smokey, blues infused anti-apology that is as thirsty as it is satiated.
The folkiest track on the playlist, “Waterfall” off of Fred Thomas’ Kuma is moody and textured like a messier, sleep deprived Elvis Perkins. The song begs “Come on everyone/it’s time to go see the waterfall” an uplifting chorus partnered with moaning string arrangements keeps “Waterfall” in the heartache category.
This track off of Don’t Wait by experimental pop duo Valley Hush could easily be a secret video game level trudging through sparkling, underwater sludge where Lana Del Rey meets St. Vincent. It’s more sensational than literal, but the ominous gurgling noise is animatedly visual.
If you would like to learn how you can help the residents of Flint, Michigan, click here.
It’s New Years Eve-Eve, and I’m flooded with the sounds of the past year. 2015 saw the rise of Detroit music in an unforgettable way. Our musicians took to the stage and to the studio with an unmistakable fire under their asses, in turn producing one of the most emotive soundtracks for the year as a whole. Detroit had something to say and people listened. I could go on and on about how I feel about the textural landscape of what this city produced this year, and how for the first time in years I felt moved and compelled to share my findings with the same enthusiasm one might reserve for opening Christmas gifts. I could talk about how Wolf Eyes‘ I am a Problem: Mind in Pieces broke my heart in ways I thought impossible, or how Moonwalks‘ Lunar Phases pushed me back to being in smokey concert venues, chasing after psychedelic rock bands when I was 16, making me feel younger than I did when I was actually young. So instead, I asked a few Detroit artists, most of whom released music this year, what local release stood out to them in 2015, and what they are most anticipating in the coming year. If what we heard is any indication of what’s to come, my suggestion is to brace yourselves: Detroit just got started.
FAVORITE OF 2015: My favorite release is a single track. Absofacto’s “Dissolve” hit me hard out of wintery nowhere in early February of 2015 (and I’d been working in studio with Jon Visger on and off for a while at that point) – but that’s how he works. Lurks, rather, within shadows. Jon Visger wrote, produced, and released this song himself. Nostalgic alarms reminiscent of mid-90s Boards of Canada fire the song into motion and are quickly joined by the fast-approaching outer edge of the track’s structural spine: the drums. They weigh about a thousand pounds each and somehow I feel weightless upon their anticipated arrival. (Sweaty like Black Moth Super Rainbow, yet crisp like Com Truise.) You’re soon swallowed up by the groove in its entirety, where bass is vicious and Visger’s vocals emerge. Lyrics speak out from a character’s entangled, love-sore point of view: a last-ditch effort farewell letter/self-evaluation. Love’s magnetism paired equally with its potential volatility.
MOST ANTICIPATED IN 2016: Recently, I listened to a bunch of new demos at Assemble Sound studio in Detroit with bassist Jeff Cuny of the band Valley Hush. I was pretty taken aback by how much things have blossomed sonically and vocally for them since hearing them in 2014. They’re a newer band, and for me it’s exciting to watch a group’s sound evolve and sometimes quite rapidly. It sounded like they have been experimenting, which is great, so I’m excited for what’s to come.
MOST ANTICIPATED IN 2016: It would have to be my bandmate and roommate Anna Burch’s new batch of solo songs that I’ve been thick in the midst of watching her create over the past year or so. Her melodies and lyrical voice are both really captivating. She hasn’t officially said it will come out this year, but I’m hoping.
FAVORITE OF 2015: Dwelling Lightheartedly In The Futility Of Everything by Matthew Daher was an early 2015 release, but stuck with me for the whole year. It’s not a pop or dance album and the songs are challenging – they seem to be five different animals that live together in the same cave. But like magic, they opened up and travelled through me like a dance. “Cyclicity” seemed like it was written just for me, and I was lucky enough to collab with Matt and produce a video for the song. Just a beautiful exchange of energy on that collaboration.
MOST ANTICIPATED IN 2016: My most anticipated local release is whatever Ritual Howls put out because holy crap, their 2014 release, Turkish Leather, makes my eyes roll back in my head with my tongue hanging out like cartoon dog drooling over a steak or bone or whatever dumb food item cartoon dogs like to eat. I’ll be spying on them online until I see something released!
FAVORITE OF 2015:I would by lying if I said a local release stuck out enough to be regarded as a favorite in 2015. Most of what I heard locally was a recollection of once unsuccessful “indie” bands until the 90’s came back, hip/trip-hop and grunge were openly repurposed, and Ableton was accepted as everyone’s backing track. If anything, Tunde Olaniran had a track I dug off of Transgressor. In my opinion, the only good thing that happened in Detroit and nationally in 2015 is that more female artists demanded and took the attention of listeners. At this point in time and in the bigger picture, this is more important than any best of the year list.