Set the scene in your mind: An intimate setting at Rockwood Music Hall complete with dimmed lights, a hazy atmosphere, and a collection of swooning, folky, country-esque music courtesy of Blue Healer. Can you feel the relaxation and good vibes? Great. Then you now understand exactly what it was like seeing them perform last Wednesday.
It was a mixture of synths and keys as well as heavy basslines and distorted upright bass. At times, the music had an older glam rock feel, surreal and ethereal, reverberating throughout your mind. Then it would transform to a folk, country-esque show complete with energetic synths — pop folk, if you will. A lot of their songs called to mind tracks of Melee and The Black Keys.
The trio hailing from Austin recently released their debut self-titled album and played an array of tracks from it (and also tracks not on it). They played their popular single “30,000 Feet,” which was full of airy vocals from frontman and bassist David Beck and otherworldly synths from keyboardist Bryan Mammel. They also slowed things down when they played “Only the Rain,” with synths that perfectly emphasized its gentle nature. When they played “Empty Bottles” is when I really felt The Black Keys vibes from them (never a bad thing).
Their last song, “Bad Weather,” was an empowering, anthemic note to end on. But fortunately, it also wasn’t quite the end, as the crowd pretty much begged for an encore, and Blue Healer happily obliged. So their real last track, “Like Diamonds,” ended up being a way more fun way to go out. It was energetic and upbeat, complemented by crashing cymbals and a big finale drumline as well as contagious energy from the band who genuinely looked like they were having the time of their life.
As a show I went into hardly knowing the band, I was pleasantly surprised and had a great time. It also helps when the band is skilled at their instruments and loves what they’re doing, too.
Detroit is a perplexing musical playground. From the greats of Motown all the way down to (like, rock bottom level down) king of the trailer park Kid Rock and his pasty, ornery 8 Mile loving opposition, Eminem to minimalistic power duo, The White Stripes and that guy selling a surprisingly fire rap demo in the gas station parking lot, the fabric of Detroit’s musical reputation is eclectic and strange; a fitting categorization. But what often gets overlooked is Detroit’s unbreakable continuing history of women in music. While compiling this list of friends, virtual unknowns, and local legends, I found I was overcoming my own poorly formed belief that Detroit was deficient in powerful female influence. Detroit is ferociously defined by the voice, talent, and unwavering sense of “Yeah, I got this” best demonstrated by these babes. The collection of women below share in their uncompromisingly daring expressions of self which in turn is a reflection of Detroit’s maverick spirit.
Jax Anderson, lead queen, is a powerhouse. Unsigned rockers, Flint Eastwood are on to something. Slinking rock-revivalist vibes tinged with Sleater-Kinney moments and vocal ferociousness that could give Alison Mosshart a run for her money, Flint Eastwood makes The Black Keys sound like watered down elementary school karaoke.
Married electro punk duo ADULT. fronted by Nicola Kuperus and Adam Lee Miller, is Detroit’s answer to Devo, Romeo Void, and Wall of Voodoo without ever feeling like an imitation. First assembled in 1998, ADULT. is an obscure and active staple and in many ways a pioneer in the formation of Detroit’s current synth punk scene.
Formed in 1997 by Amy Gore, The Gore Gore Girls are one of the cities most influential psych-punk bands. Fittingly named after a 70’s splatter flick, The Gore Gore Girls have toured as support to The Cramps and have played festivals with The Stooges, The Strokes, and The Zombies. Over the course of ten years and three albums, they’ve managed to maintain their psychedelic, raised-from-the-dead sound that continue to set the stage for some of the other ladies on this list.
4. SUZI QUATRO “IF YOU CAN’T GIVE ME LOVE”
Detroit’s under credited queen of rock is as much of an influence today as she was when she hit the scene back in 1972. Although not the first of her kind, Quatro paved the way for girls who could hang with the boys by crafting a subdued androgynous persona on stage and a roaring rock sound behind the mic. Considered one of the first female bassists to break through in the boys game of rock n’ roll, Quatro remains one of Detroit’s baddest women of rock.
Singer Rachelle Baker and producer Nick Marrow make up Little Animal, a dreamy duo responsible for the sexiest music in town. Smoothly assembled, celestial textured electronic beats that could be easily be the love child of Erykah Badu and Bjork.
Ruth Synowiec fronts Mexican Knives, a buzzy, lo-fi blues rock band with biting bass lines and pulsing surf punk undertones. Alongside guitarist Zach Weedon and drummer Blair Wills, Synowiec vocals are a perfect counterpart to their Brian Jonestown Massacre tendencies. She may have told The Detroit Metro Times last year that she “has no idea what she’s doing” although endearing, it’s clear that she’s wrong.
Asia Mock, Sarah Stawski, and T.J Grech are Pretty Ghouls, an angsty, raw nerve punk trio that is undoubtedly one of the hardest, fuzziest newcomers to come out of Detroit in recent years. Unapologetic, Pretty Ghouls channel Detroit god Iggy Pop through their own “fuck you” filter, which makes sense considering Mock told Detroit’s Metro Times in 2012 that she wants to be the first, black female Iggy Pop. “I just want to scream in people’s faces and maybe get to rub my vagina on something in public.”
Jessica Hernandez is a Detroit darling to the max. One of our cities most beloved female acts, Hernandez (and The Deltas, respectively) have birthed their own breed of soul/pop that is as sugary as it sexy. Colorfully confident arrangements paired with Hernandez’s signature saccharine vulnerability makes for some of Detroit’s grooviest pop.
9. CHEERLEADER “QUENCHED”
Flint-based Cheerleader, comprised of Nisa, Polly, and Ashley, is a muddy, gritty Nirvana-demo sounding trio who unabashedly thrash lyrics like “Little boys with big dicks/we need a cure for it” over messily effective compositions. Although Cheerleader doesn’t have a large collection of songs, they are a defiant presence in the Michigan underground.
10. EL DEE “HEAVEN HELP ME”
Lauren Deming, or El Dee, leads a group of friends/musicians into a jazzy throwback dreamscape all her own. Rich and pure, Deming’s vocals are breathy, yet challenging. Without a rigid commitment to an era niche, El Dee manages to fuse Gershwin-esque standards with contemporary arrangement not unlike Amy Winehouse or Jon Brion, with avoiding sounding like a “fusion” artist.
The first time I heard Hozier’s breakout (and Grammy-nominated) single, “Take Me to Church” I was sleeping. I woke as if from a beautiful dream, jumped out of bed and went to my computer. I needed to know what the song was before it slipped away.
Although I found out that the Irish singer/songwriter’s debut album was due out in the fall of 2014, I put off buying it because I was afraid I would be disappointed. I finally purchased the album on vinyl a couple of days ago, opened it, took a breath and listened.
I am not disappointed.
Hozier’s roots rock sound feels like it was born and bred in the Bible Belt of the American South. There are head-bobbing blues riffs, spare melodies, 1960’s soul, violins, cello and plenty of church choir style harmonies. Somehow, Hozier manages to wrangle these eclectic sounds into a cohesive album.
This record will appeal to fans of The Black Keys (especially the track “To Be Alone”). Standout tracks include “Work Song” and “It Will Come Back,” with the amazing lines “Jesus Christ, don’t be kind to me/Honey don’t feed me/I will come back.”
Packaging: Double LP. Beautiful collage artwork and lyric sheets. CD version included.
Where to Get It: You can buy the vinyl from Hozier’s website.
Fugees The Score
“How many mics do you rip on the daily?”
This is really happening. The Fugees’ The Score is almost 20 years old, people. It’s a vintage classic.
When I went to buy the Hozier record, I came across this re-release in the crates. Let’s just say it wasn’t cheap, but as I debated whether or not to take it home I realized that I hadn’t heard the full album since my tape player died. So, I bought the record.
The Score is a perfect and amazing album. It’s not a bunch of singles. It’s a story. There are even weird little skits in-between songs.
Think about how many tracks have become legendary from this record: “Ready Or Not,” “How Many Mics,” “Fu-Gee-La” and Lauryn Hill’s cover of “Killing Me Softly.” That’s just to name a few because otherwise I would have to list every track.
Smart. Funny. Funky. This record is worth the cost of 180 gram vinyl.
Ending your band’s debut album with a 23-minute hidden track is a bold move, but then again, The Black Keyshave always been pretty bold in their bluegrass/garage rock. Years before they were selling out tours throughout the country, Akron, Ohio natives Dan Auerbach (guitar/vocals) and Patrick Carney (drums) were jamming in their basement, penning tracks that would soon become their first DIY full-length, The Big Come Up (2002). Auerbach and Carney had sent a demo to several record companies, eventually securing the support of Alive, an indie label in California that didn’t even require the duo to perform for them.
The boys’ DIY roots extend to their sound. The songs on this album are much more raw than the polished versions of the duo’s latest albums, but that lends the early tracks something special and nostalgic. Although it consists of only a few original songs written by the bandmates (who began their friendship in middle school), those original songs exude a unique roughness that is rarely found anymore. They rock their guitars and drums, but they take their time as they make their way through each track.
However, the covers themselves shouldn’t be taken for granted, as they so perfectly convey the band’s style. Their take on The Beatles’ “She Said, She Said” turns the light, airy feel of the original and adds heavier rock, turning up the guitars and thus incorporating another layer of passion to the track. On “Leavin’ Trunk,” Auerbach and Carney flair up the blues standard with their own interpretation.
The part original composition, part cover album didn’t initially gain the pair many followers outside of Ohio, but it did manage to attract the attention of Fat Possum Records, which produced several of their subsequent albums. The garage rock band had something different to offer in the early millennium, and eventually people took notice. Their single, “I’ll Be Your Man,” one of the best from the album, later received much recognition, including use as the theme song for HBO’s “Hung.”
Throughout several albums after The Big Come Up, The Black Keys refined their style and slowly weaned themselves off of covers, to produce fresh music of their own. While they’ve released chart-topping albums since their beginning, their roots of blues rock will always be a part of their sound and image. The Big Come Up not only started it all, but also influenced it all.