Review: Frank and Earnest – Modern Country

After a long hiatus between albums, Lansing pop punks Frank and Earnest are releasing their new album, Modern Country, with a release show on Saturday Sept. 6 featuring Able Baker Fox, Summerpunx and Braidedveins.

On record, Frank and Earnest is Ben Hassenger (guitar, vocals), Paul Wittmann (bass, vocals), Ryan Horky (drums) and Nick Pierce (guitar, vocals).

Here’s a review.

"Modern Country" cover, with artwork by Craig Horky.

With their brand of gritty, witty Descendents-esque pop punk, Frank and Earnest hit another home run. There might be a few straggling moments, but they pass the finish line with another great record.

“Paul 5″ is an energetic, bar-room-brawl of an opening track. With a country twang — the intro’s squealing notes, Wittmann’s natural drawl of a vocal and lyrics dwelling on missing an opportunity to meet a girl — the pumping drums, churning rhythm guitar and shouted backing vocals make this a fist-pumping stand out.

“Body Parts” feels a little clunky to me.  The quick, choppy dueling guitars and the solo toward the end feels a bit chaotic. Everything else in the song works just fine.

The lone song featuring Pierce on lead vocals, “This is Why I Don’t Party”, is one of the album’s couple standout tracks. Strummed electric guitar chords lay the backdrop while Pierce sings “…Spent all night staring at the ceiling, toss and turn the night away” and it immediately hooks you in. Then the rimshots on the snare come in and it gets better and better. The shout-along chorus — “I remember shaking, all throughout the night/I remember dizzy eyes and crooked sights” is great stuff. Its quick pace and high energy will make you sing along.

“Drink About It” is also a great track. High speed, ringing guitars, tom-tom heavy drums, excellent, hook-laden backing vocals and lyrics about drinking make this a nice track. Good stuff.

“Take the Back Road,” which is musically no different than many of the other tracks (loud guitars, pounding drums, energetic vocals), has something about it that gives it an extra energy. I’m not sure what it is. I guess the quick, driving acoustic intro hooks me in. It’s just a classic F&E track on par with “Mr. Holland’s Otis” or “Addictionary”. I love it.

The album’s last few tracks take the band in a few different directions.

“New Traditions” has a storytelling quality about it. Lots of lyrics, relatively quiet verses with chugging guitars and pounding tom-toms. “I examined the pages of those history books/every speck on the timeline, all the heroes and crooks/but I found a missing figure, a relic overlooked,” Hassenger sings, effortlessly pulling off the first of many wordy verses. The chorus is great with high energy instrumentation and backing vocals. Another catchy, anthemic singalong.

“Paul 6″ is the most country song on “Modern Country” complete with piano, slide guitar, acoustic guitar and topped off with Wittmann’s drawl played up for full effect. The song has a hopping drum beat, lyrics about not going to work — “Bossman calls to see if I’d go to work/Let me think about it/I don’t think so jerk,” and others about drinking are espoused. On one hand, it’s a bit gimmicky but on the other, it’s really genuine. A left turn but a neat and experimental one at that. Thumbs up.

Overall a good LP. Lots of anthemic choruses, loud guitars and just generally good punk rock. If you’re a fan of Descendents or The Gaslight Anthem-like punk rock, this will be right up your alley.

Check this out via their Bandcamp once its released on Saturday Sept. 6.

Lansing bands on tour, playing Pouzza Fest in Montreal this weekend

Pouzza Fest, held in downtown Montreal, takes place in nine venues over three days.

Lansing bands invade punk festival Pouzza Fest in Montreal, Quebec, Canada this weekend.

Small Parks, which recently released their newest EP called Retracing, play Friday.

Little American Champ, which released a new set of songs last month, play Saturday.

Read the schedule linked above to find out more.

Both bands — currently on tours coinciding with their Pouzza Fest stops — are playing for the first time outside of the U.S.

Each band is also playing Bled Fest on Saturday May 24 in Howell, Mich., too.

Stream Fisherking’s Ghost on Spotify

Album art for Ghost, the latest LP from Fisherking.

Ghost, the 2012 LansingMusic.TV Album of the Year by Lansing’s Fisherking, is now available to stream on Spotify.

The Lansing hardcore band — which began demoing new songs and playing more shows beginning last summer, including a show with The Suicide Machines at a sold-out Mac’s Bar — released Ghost in the fall of 2012.

Joe Hertler, The People’s Temple, more added to Common Ground Music Festival

Lansing bands Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers and The People’s Temple have been added to the annual Common Ground Music Festival, held in July in downtown Lansing at Adado Riverfront Park.

Joe Hertler and the funk-bringing Rainbow Seekers perform on Sunday July 23 alongside Earth, Wind & Fire, the Robert Glasper Experiment and more. The band has many tour dates lined up this summer, including stops at the Summer Camp Music Festival in Illinois as well as many stops around Michigan.

Garage rock band The People’s Temple — who are in the middle of completing a U.S. tour — have been added to the bill on Saturday, July 12 alongside headliners Fitz and the Tantrums, Dr. Dog, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. and more.

Lansing rappers James Gardin, L Soul and CyRus have been added to the hip-hop night featuring Big Sean, Juicy J and Machine Gun Kelly.

Review: Cheap Girls – “Famous Graves”

Cheap Girls are back with a new full-length album, Famous Graves, out today (Tuesday, May 13) on Xtra Mile Recordings. They also have a few tours this summer too: one with Andrew Jackson Jihad and another with The Hold Steady.

Here’s a review of their newest LP.

The Michigan band's new album is out now via Xtra Mile Recordings.

If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.

Recorded in Grand Rapids, Mich. and Chicago, Ill., the simple rock ‘n’ roll format the band — guitarist Adam Aymor, singer/bassist Ian Graham and drummer Ben Graham — adopted over three previous LPs is in full effect here. “Knock Me Over”, about Ian’s knee surgery a few years ago, immediately starts the toe-tapping with the tapping of a high hat and a lightly strummed, crunchy electric guitar. The interplay between a chimey, ringing guitar cushioned next to a crunchy, riff-driving one is neat. This provides a melody to hum along to while heads still bob along.

“Pure Hate,” recorded a few years ago for a split with New York’s Lemuria, reappears here. I loved the track the first time I heard it and I love it all over again here. Ben’s playing is driving yet smooth and great to air-drum to. Ian’s vocal of “I only want to stare you down” is a monster hook. Aymor’s guitar solo is simple and driven by the overall melody and chord progression. The palm-muted guitar ending is a great cap to a fantastic song, even if it’s already been recorded and released once.

Ian’s vocals — from being charmingly uncomfortable on their debut to being recorded in one take on Giant Orange — have become one of my favorite things about the band. Sure, I love a loud guitar and a pounding set of drums just as much as the next guy but the vocal melody and delivery are something the band and Ian don’t take for granted. As he sings “I’d do anything to lose the pain” on “Knock Me Over”, the sincerity and catchiness of his delivery is a subtle mark of how much he’s developed into his role as a singer. The same goes for “Man in Question”. He can take his voice from a middle register to a higher, more emotive one in an instant. The “Woah-ohs” in the bridge are excellent, too.

Again: if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. In fact, they’re not only an accomplished, polished and working unit but are improving with each new LP they release.

2013 Michigan music roundup Part 3 of 3

The final part of the Lansingmusic.TV 2013 Michigan music round up is here! Check out part 1 here and part 2 here. Here’s to a great 2014 in Michigan music.

Small Houses “Exactly Where You Wanted to Be” LP

Now a resident of Atlanta, Ga., previously a resident of Philadelphia, Pa. and before that, a resident of many Michigan cities, Jeremy Quentin, aka Small Houses, released a great followup LP to 2011′s North this year. Similar to Frontier Ruckus or Chris Bathgate, Small Houses carries a midwestern ethos wherever he’s located.

From my Central Michigan Life review: ““Oh, Hiding Out” starts the record off with lush guitars, sharp harmonica and unusual anthem-like vocals during the verses. “Saint Louis isn’t gone/No, it’s hidden and waiting in my voice,” he sings with volume and conviction.

Without any drums to be heard on the record, Quentin relies on instruments such as an acoustic guitar, piano and his voice to effectively tell the stories his songs convey.

“Sarah’s Song” is a standout track. With the piano providing the hook, it’s reminiscent of New Jersey, Springsteen-influenced punk band The Gaslight Anthem. It has memorable vocals and powerful piano chords that stick in your head with a heck of a hook.

“You were exactly where you wanted to be,” he sings on “Our Sweet,” a track which has storytelling at its finest.”

Frontier Ruckus “Eternity of Dimming” LP

Metro Detroit’s Frontier Ruckus released the massive and expansive “Eternity of Dimming” 20-song album back in February. They then toured the U.S., Europe, played many a summer festival including Lollapalooza then toured again, this time in the midwest and east coast. Ever the workhorses, they’re already working on a followup LP.

Full of intimately specific lyrics (all 5,500 or so of them), this is a great record if you just want to get lost in a sea of localities, memories and emotions. Songs like “Dealerships” and “Eyelashes” show why this band will continue toward more and more success.

Jahshua Smith “The Final Season” LP

Now living in Washington, D.C., Jahshua Smith, a member of Lansing-based hip hop collective Blat! Pack, released a great hip hop LP called The Final Season in February. With high chart performances on the CMJ hip hop chart, look out for more from him in the future.

From my Central Michigan Life review: “With cameos from a who’s-who of Michigan artists from Joe Hertler (on lead track “Seven Year Itch”) to fellow BLAT! Pack members Philthy, The Amature, Yellowkake and Red Pill, the diversity shown in the featured artists is just as diverse as the production on the tracks themselves. “Seven Year Itch” features Hertler’s soulful crooning on the chorus, while “Carry On/The Ark” features Philthy’s lisp-laden flow.

Smith’s lyrics range from the political to the personal, with a party track thrown in here and there. On “Censored,” he raps about making it to college “but still had to wait for Uncle Sam to split the bill.”

It’s a bit of a stream-of-consciousness, pointed diatribe with a bit of hope tied to it. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel here.”

Cavalcade – Dear Entrails LP

After founding vocalist Zak Warren parted ways with the band and recruited Wastelander’s Sean Peters to take on vocal duties, Cavalcade, Lansing’s “weird metal” champions came back in May and June in full force. The band had a busy second half of 2013: They released two albums worth of material (“Dear Entrails, …” and “15 Year Dog Plan“) on their Bandcamp and, later in the year, played the Housecore Horror Film Festival in Austin, Texas and released a 7″ record, their first physical release in half a decade.

If I were to pick an Album of the Year for 2013, this would be it.

Here’s a little bit about their “Dear Entrails, …” record, from my (quite lengthy) LMTV review:

“An album about failure never sounded so successful in its vision. The self-described “weird metal” band have been combining disparate genres like avant, jazz, sludge, doom and even traditional instruments like tuba and saxophone since at least 2006 and here, after releasing their debut album a few years ago, finally show what their twisted vision is capable of.

“Agents of Bolivian”, with a backwards guitar effect in the intro, puts Cavalcade’s sound in an angular, skewed template. Guitar solos that could fit on a modern day thrash inspired-metal record clash with tuba and glockenspiel, although the latter is minimal while the overall tempo here is sludge and doom-inspired but maybe a little bit faster.”

2013 Michigan music roundup Part 2 of 3

Here’s part 2 of our three-part round of Michigan releases for 2013. Read part 1, featuring Jake Simmons and the Little Ghosts, Flint Eastwood and The Swellers.

Lights and Caves “In Satori” EP

Formed late in 2012, Lansing-based Lights and Caves started writing songs and playing gigs almost immediately. With 2013 came the addition of Elliot Street Lunatic founder/guitarist/singer Jason Marr on guitar and vocals. Marr helped produce, and even played on, the EP. Released in August, the band has been playing gigs around the state any chance it gets.

From my Lansing City Pulse review: “The opener “Manchy” gives a nod to Atlanta’s Manchester Orchestra, with rocking but polished guitar chords mixed with pounding drums that proclaim the music’s danceability in no uncertain terms. “In Satori” recalls Radiohead’s “Reckoner,” with a finger-picked clean guitar countering another, Ebow-laden guitar that calmly washes over a light snare-dominated beat.

It all combines to hold Gorden’s Thom Yorke-esque falsetto to Earth. The same Radiohead influence is evident on “Run,” but with a lot more ambiance and spaciousness. Marr’s influence on this band is pretty obvious; the opening of “Tragedy” recalls ESL’s own song “Maps” from their second album “Ghost Town Lullabies.” Some of his guitar tones here sound straight out of ESL’s soundworld.

Moses “Gush” LP

Mount Pleasant band Moses, originally a large, multi-instrument acoustic outfit, changed its sound dramatically in 2013 by going fully electric and cutting down to three members (or sometimes four, adding the occasional extra guitarist at live shows) with just electric guitar, bass, drums and vocals. The band released its long-awaited debut album, “Gush,” in November on its Bandcamp page and played a few low-key shows to promote it.

From my Central Michigan Life review: “The vocable “ah-ha”s throughout “Huron,” recorded with ambiance and the live crowd in mind, will stay in your head for days.

The guitars driving the signature melody are accompanied by Schaeffer’s smooth and driving drum patterns and a crunchy rhythm guitar, while Pitzer’s vocals provide chill-inducing feeling, especially the line “When did we, when did we become what we are?” This line is delivered with a great conviction and energy and is definitely a stand out track on this LP.”

Small Parks “Meet Me In Cognito” EP

Formed out of the ashes of post-rock band Good Weather for Airstrikes, Lansing-based Small Parks strips away the long, drawn out instrumentals and exchanges them for tight, to-the-point emo punk songs.

From my LMTV review: ““Parallel Thoughts” has such a Gin Blossoms vibe toward the beginning, especially recalling their early 90′s hit “Hey Jealousy”. Talo’s distorted, intricate guitar picking gives the songs another tip-off to emo; noodley and textured like Connecticut’s The World is a Beautiful Place and I am No Longer Afraid to Die or Rockford, Illinois’ Joie De Vivre. Radick shows honesty and sadness in his lyrics: “You’re no longer with me when I sleep but your body still haunts me in my dreams/We could be onto something here/But I’m too afraid of failure to find out” and “yes it is true I once loved you/And at one point I loved myself too”.

2013 Michigan music roundup Part 1 of 3

Lots of great records by Michigan bands from many different genres came out in 2013. Here’s part 1 of  a three-part roundup of some of the records to come out this year.

Jake Simmons and the Little Ghosts “Them and Them and Us” EP

Driven by a more punk rock approach in both musical stylings and lyrics, Kalamazoo band Jake Simmons and the Little Ghosts delivered a great five-track EP in April.

From my review in Central Michigan Life: “The chugging, downbeat-laden and snare-driven “Them (Evil)” has a march-like feel to it. “It’s not about the people/It’s about the right people,” and other lines like “Lesser of two evils/Won’t you save us from these people” and “I’m tired of speaking softly” accentuate the political bent of the lyrics.

“Who Are You?” is a standout track for the band. With a lone, catchy guitar line and vocals, Simmons lays a lot on the line musically and lyrically. His guitar playing expresses a working class loneliness; one definitely gets Springsteen vibes from this. “Pray to save our souls/pray to save our minds/pray to rock and roll/pray to Jesus Christ,” he belts out.”

Flint Eastwood “Late Nights in Bolo Ties” EP

Detroit’s Flint Eastwood had a busy 2013. They recently played with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. They partied with Andrew W.K. at Bled Fest, played Common Ground Music Festival and, most importantly, released their debut EP “Late Nights in Bolo Ties” in August. The band, known for its energetic live performances of songs like “Shotgun” and “Secretary”, play a furious brand of rock and roll a la The MC5 and mix it with dance hall bangers to create a unique soundtrack to the Michigan summer.

From my LMTV review: “The drums courtesy of Mark Hartman, bring out their trademark balance of crushing rock and roll heaviness (especially the cymbal crashes on tracks like “Secretary”) with a dance hall swagger that is undeniable and driving. Everything else builds off of this foundation, like Clay Carnill’s omnipresent bass, sometimes pumping (like on “Can You Feel Me Now?”) and other times fluid but always holding down the fort.”

The Swellers “The Light Under Closed Doors” LP

The Swellers, a Flint, Mich. punk quartet, released their newest album in October on No Sleep Records.

From my LMTV review: “Although the musicianship (top notch as it is) is pretty standard for pop punk/rock, the band took a different approach to make themselves stand out. The lyrical focus this time around pays off in spades as they’re the best the band has ever put on record. Opener “Should” starts with a defeated mindset about a deteriorating relationship that ultimately comes to an end (“I gave up/I know things won’t get better” and “I went home/You won’t wait forever/I’ll go first/We shouldn’t be together”). Later on, though, the protagonist seems to come to terms with this and move on (“Now I see the light under closed doors/I’m better now”).”

REVIEW: The Swellers “The Light Under Closed Doors”

Flint’s The Swellers are back with a new LP, “The Light Under Closed Doors” (No Sleep Records) due out Tuesday Oct. 29.

The Swellers are: Nick Diener (guitar, vocals), Jonathan Diener (drums), Anto Boros (bass) and Ryan Collins (drums).

This is The Swellers’ strongest album to date, no doubt.

After multiple full-length albums and a few EPs in their decade-plus existence, the band has their instrumental style down pat by now with this 10-song LP. The guitars are loud, melodic and in-your-face (opener “Should” comes to mind). The bass is smooth and, along with the drums, bring a powerful, rhythmic and memorable one-two punch. Kicked into overdrive mode, the drums toward the end of “Designated Driver” give the song a final bright flash before burning out just a few seconds later. The melodies on this LP are super-catchy and a have pop sheen but not too glossy. Every song on this LP has some catchy hooks, some catchier than others.

Although the musicianship (topnotch as it is) is pretty standard for pop punk/rock, the band took a different approach to make themselves stand out.

The lyrical focus this time around pays off in spades as they’re the best the band has ever put on record.

Opener “Should” starts with a defeated mindset about a deteriorating relationship that ultimately comes to an end (“I gave up/I know things won’t get better” and “I went home/You won’t wait forever/I’ll go first/We shouldn’t be together”). Later on, though, the protagonist seems to come to terms with this and move on (“Now I see the light under closed doors/I’m better now”).

Diener’s lyrics are really relatable, understandable and, best of all, easy to sing (or shout) along to. Throughout the record, he’s done his best work at condensing his thoughts into as few words as possible while at the same time making them easy to sing along to. That’s quite a feat and an excellent one at that.

“Got Social” is a favorite for its lyrics too. Again, relatability is the reason why. “You’re blowin’ smoke in my face, again/I know you’ll never quit/You got social/and I don’t like it” he sings, with some clever wordplay. The literal use of blowing smoke (ie smoking at social gatherings, etc) and the idea of being social as a smokescreen to hide shortcomings (or something similar) is really shrewd. Well played, Mr. Diener. Also, the resentment toward someone else for acting social when the protagonist is not is interesting too.

More on the topic of social interaction (or lack thereof), “High/Low” tells the story of not being able to shake that uneasy always-awkward feeling, either by yourself or around others. “I’m locked in my room/and I’m not feeling human” and “Maybe in two hundred years time/things will finally feel right” Diener belts out.

Despite the ups and downs of daily life Diener sings about throughout the album with an assured confidence, there’s always an upside as album closer “Call It a Night” demonstrates. “Regress and rewind/Find the peace of mind/When it all comes to light/We can call it a night/But some of this will stay/When the feeling fades away/When it all comes to light/We can call it a night” are just some of the lyrics. There are even a couple references to their previous full-length “Good for Me”. Some of this anxiety Diener sings about on this LP might never go away as long as he’s alive (like he sings on “High/Low”) but making the best of situations (finding the light under closed doors) by making music, like Diener and co. choose to do, is a viable alternative.

In short, the lyrics here are some of the best, most relatable, precise and shout-worthy I’ve heard in a long time. Also, being a native of Michigan, how could I forget to talk about “Great Lakes State”. Glad the band is showing pride in its home state.

Go preorder the record or buy it when it comes out Tuesday Oct. 29 and go see them on tour all over the country this fall.

Review: Flint Eastwood “Late Nights in Bolo Ties” EP

Detroit band Flint Eastwood released their debut EP “Late Nights in Bolo Ties” on their Bandcamp page a few weeks ago.

Check out a review of the EP below.

The best way I can accurately describe Detroit rock-meets-dance band Flint Eastwood is the exact moment before the bullet inside of a gun, spinning furiously, leaves the barrel and just as the gun lets out its ferocious and loud bang. Flint Eastwood’s new EP, “Late Nights in Bolo Ties” (self-released) and their explosive, confrontational (in a more inviting way than shying away) live show both are that exact moment personified. Featuring live staples “Secretary” and “Shotgun”, the four song EP showcases the best of the band.

The drums courtesy of Mark Hartman, bring out their trademark balance of crushing rock and roll heaviness (especially the cymbal crashes on tracks like “Secretary”) with a dance hall swagger that is undeniable and driving. Everything else builds off of this foundation, like Clay Carnill’s omnipresent bass, sometimes pumping (like on “Can You Feel Me Now?”) and other times fluid but always holding down the fort.

The textures on the record are pretty neat. The lead guitar sounds, via Bryan Pope, ranges from wild Whammy pedal dips (“Secretary”) to punishing White Stripes-esque riffs, sometimes all within the same song. The intro to “Shotgun” is a perfect example of this, with almost Tom Morello-esque heaviness and texture all within the same moment. The synth samples like on “Billy the Kid” are the hook of the song, especially toward the end with the broken up bits. It all bleeds into your memory so quick.

Lyrics by singer and rhythm guitarist Jax Anderson range from empowerment like on “Secretary”: “Boy I ain’t your secretary/I don’t please no one but me/Boy I ain’t your female dog/So quit bitching” to old western stories of survival: “Like a spark in the night/he’ll find you/With the blink of an eye/he’ll catch you”. There are even a few nods to cool dudes like James Dean like on “Secretary”: “Boy you ain’t no James Dean/Quit playin’ too cool for me”.

This band has a ton going for it: enough live energy to fill 10 stadiums, a great visual look and scream-along lyrics that you can’t help but oblige to.

Catch them Thursday Sept. 5 with Robert DeLong and Ghost Beach. Tickets are $15 in advance and $17 at the door. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the event is all ages. Visit theloftlansing.com for more information.

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