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Jason Alarm “Engage” Review

You might hear the EP “Engage” by Grand Ledge, MI’s Jason Alarm and be bewildered by where it came from. “Grand Ledge, you say? Impossible!?” But something great doesn’t have to come from a well known place. Recorded in the Spring of 2009, this record is like an elephant in the room. It’s so obviously different than anything else that a Lansing area band has put out in a long time.

The key thing that stands out for me is the heavy use of synths. Played here by Brandon Blancard, they bath the record in almost-power metal greatness and bombast. They help flesh out the band’s sound. Some of the most catchy parts of the record are not played on a guitar, but on a synth. The synth line on “Cobras” is catchy and energetic. Not many bands (if any) in Lansing use synths in any capacity. Jason Alarm’s use of them isn’t necessarily unique in the grand scheme of things but, locally, it is a breath of fresh air in the lead guitar, riff-driven punk rock of Lansing.

Given the previous statement, it might be weird to praise the guitar playing here, but that’s what I’m going to do. On “Friday the 13th”, the lead guitar riff is full of power and might. It’s a guitar riff that you want to rock out to. The rhythm guitars are solid and add depth when the synths take the lead. Some of the rhythm guitars have an almost ska-type bounce to them, like on “Wild Zero”. They can get you moving. The guitars don’t play second fiddle to the synths here but do the jobs asked of them, either on rhythm or lead.

Lead singer and guitarist Matt Waterman’s vocals are, like many things on this record, a unique aspect to the band. He’s tuneful and shouty, often during the same song. He has a swagger in his voice that is infectious and gets in your head. It is also at times raspy and strangled but still listenable. Often, when he sings more melodic lines, it sounds flat and droning. It’s a good thing that he double-tracked his vocals. It makes his voice stand up amongst the music but not necessarily above it.

His lyrics are another thing altogether. He sings lines about zombies, masturbation and girls. Some of them are honestly ridiculous. If they were not backed by such epic music, they might be laughed at. But not necessarily by me. I think I’d just snicker at them. From “Cobras”, he sings “You swallow everything/I can’t remember/I haven’t seen that face/Since last December/I am your poltergeist/ You’re my pretender”. I’m not sure what the idea behind them is, as random as they seem, but they sound so epic and catchy it’s hard not to like them (or at least sing along).

Synth leads, roaring power metal guitar lines and epic vocals characterize this record. These are all things I could get used to hearing from this band. Being over a year since this record came out, the band have had a few line up changes but still have all of these characteristics intact. Some of lyrics aren’t the best but are anthemic and will get you singing and shouting along.

Frank and Earnest “Old Francis” review

Lansing’s Frank and Earnest have delivered on one hell of a record with “Old Francis”. Gritty, raw and uncompromisingly working class in its roots, it makes me want to say that it pushes the boundaries of punk rock but it doesn’t. It is fairly standard pop-punk. All of the elements are there from the crunchy guitars, pounding drums and the singalong choruses. There are, however, subtle things that make Frank and Earnest an intriguing unit and a band to look out for.

Ben Hassenger, the band’s singer and guitarist, has a vocal style that is really unique. His voice is deep, gravely and has a working class feel to it, yet it is tuneful and you can hum along to it. It’s like your local construction worker singing punk rock. His voice helps bring home the raw energy of the music. The lyrics, like on “Red and Black”, deal with working class issues. “I’m so tired of the red and black/ the aches in my bones, the sweat on my back/I’m so tired of the red and black/My hopes and dreams are under attack” he sings with a conviction that makes you believe he means what he sings.

I didn’t forget about the rest of the band. Ryan Horky (drums), Otis McCheese (guitar/vocals) and Paul Wittmann (bass/vocals) make this record what it is. The music is tight, thumping and will get you pumped up. It’s full of an energy that only a Lansing band can bring you. Recorded earlier this year, when the city still reels from harsh economic times , the band puts all of their energy into playing their instruments. They play so hard and with a fire that is rarely seen around here. The city’s turmoil has seemed to inspire the band and their music. Even on slower tracks like “Clever”, the music is full of soul and passion. It seems that a city under turmoil pushes its bands to do their best. This is most certainly the case with Frank and Earnest and “Old Francis”. Go do yourself a favor and pick this up.

Small Houses playing (Scene) Metrospace Friday

If you’re curious to hear the sounds and experience the sights of a Small Houses live show, you’re in luck. Jeremy Quentin AKA Small Houses, will be showcasing his unique brand of minimalist Folk music this Friday at (Scene) Metrospace in East Lansing. You can expect a very different live show from Small Houses. For his last record, Our Dusking Sound, he employed the use of a horn and rhythm section as well as strings to fully flesh out his sound live. However, Quentin says that unlike other artists who desire a full band on stage, he prefers to play alone. “…I’m finding more and more excitement being up there alone” says Quentin.

He now takes Small Houses on as a full-time job and says playing the Midwest and East Coast has allowed him to “really kick off his imagination” in regards to working on Small Houses more often. According to Quentin, October will have 20 touring dates and then November and December will be dedicated to writing and recording a new record. Like the rest of the Small Houses catalog, influence will come from all directions, including Punk Rock like Black Flag to other Michigan Folk groups Gifts or Creatures and The Photographers, says Quentin. He also says his songs also pull from personal experiences and the aforementioned groups “has been more of a reason to push my personal growth” as a songwriter.

  • Check out Small Houses, Double Saginaw Familiarity and Graham Parsons (not the rock star, but the band) at Scene Metrospace this Friday. Doors at 8pm and Music by 9pm. The show is All Ages and is $5.

The Unforgettable Johnny Unicorn Interview

Check out Johnny Unicorn’s very vivid blog about his experience of playing at Mac’s Bar earlier this month. Thanks Johnny for mentioning me in your blog! It’s awesome!

Johnny Unicorn’s blog post available here.

Chaz/TCF Update: Cartridge Family responds with a “secret weapon”

Since my last article was posted here around this time last night, The Cartridge Family have taken my question posed, “How will The Cartridge Family respond to Chaz’s claims?” and have done just that.

In their response video entitled “TCF’s Secret Weapon” they claim to have a “secret weapon” that will ruin Chaz and his efforts to wage war on the Lansing music scene. TCF say they will unveil the weapon at Day One of BMP Fest this Friday.

With less than 24 hours before BMP Fest begins, what will Chaz’s last ditch effort be against TCF? Does he have a secret weapon of his own and if so, what could it be and when will it be revealed?

Show up to Bermuda Mohawk Fest Day 1 this Friday at Mac’s Bar to find out how the continuing saga will unfold!

Chaz Brackx lights fire under Lansing music scene, continues “War”

After declaring war on Lansing’s music scene on August 9th at the Chaz Brackx and the Tight Teens Mac’s Bar show, Chaz has been the target of criticism as well as the instigator of a debate that is now raging here. Is the scene stale? Does it need to be rejuvenated? He seems to think so. Others are left to wonder if he is right or if he is full of it.

Recently banned-from-Lansing band, The Cartridge Family, seem to be in the latter category. On September 2, 2010, almost a month later, they responded with a reminder to Chaz that they will be at Mac’s on September 17th to reclaim the current scene they helped to birth and grow.

The volley was now back in Chaz’s corner. He took to the camera to call the Cartridge Family a “kid in a cowboy hat” and calling The Cartridge’s Families’ The People’s Champ, “the people’s chump”. He then took the time to promote the Red Swan reunion show on September 25th, 2010 with his respective band as well as Funender at Basement 414.

Will the war end and if so when? How will The Cartridge Family respond to Chaz’s claims? How does the Red Swan reunion show factor into this war?

You’ll just have to find out this Friday night at Mac’s Bar where Bermuda Mohawk Fest will be the battle ground between Team Chaz and Team TCF!

P2DaHI and The Amature: Whatupdoe From Blat! Review

When I interviewed James “P2DaHI” Gardin and Wayne “The Amature” Weigel for Lansingmusic.tv, I learned a lot about how the EP, Whatupdoe From Blat!, came together musically and how the personalities of P2Dahi and The Amature melted and melded together to create something entirely fresh on the local scene. Produced by DJ Sabzi of Seattle’s Blue Scholars, the beats are laid back and the deliveries of the rhymes are the same.

End of May instills the laid back style that permeates the EP as a whole. The hand percussion beats and synths get you moving and then the raps bring the song into full speed. As Amature and P2DaHI wrap their rhymes around your ears, the aforementioned synths are sparse, letting the vocal abilities of the two shine. The rhymes themselves are quirky and yet powerful in their delivery. Mellow, laid back rhymes about Vonage and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Inception may seem out of place but after a few listens, it all makes sense.

I have already reviewed the next song, Passports, but I think I’ll add a few notes here. Everything about the song feels fresh and genuine. Although the song contains a message to the listener about traveling and experiencing the world, it’s not done in a way that seems pretentious. Instead, it seems to add to the “Summer” theme of having a good time and living life while the Summer is hot.

#TrendingTopic is probably the most musically diverse song in the set. From a techno-inspired intro things slow down to a repeating realm of bass drums and droning keys swirling around the quick, lightning rhymes. References like The World Cup, Wikipedia, Grease, and Twitter sprinkle the  looping beats. The end contains a not-so-subtle call for people to follow P2DaHI and The Amature on Twitter. Some may think it’s pretentious but again, it adds to fun vibes they want the songs to contain.

We take a slower, R&B tinged turn with I’ll Be Waiting. The singing chorus is the most vocally diverse part of the whole EP. No Autotune to is be found here, which bucks the current mainstream rap trend. The vocal, at first, may put some off at first. You may be asking why they didn’t use Autotune, but this reviewer likes the fact they didn’t use it and wanted to take a chance. A ballad-esque song is a good thing every now and then. I approve.

The next song, about a friend of the group coming back to town, Nate’s Back In Town (Thursday Night), is the most infectious song here. The chorus will have you singing along, I guarantee it. The lyrics are about a party and the goings on like meeting new friends and seeing old ones; a perfect Summer theme. The beat is a click-clack dance beat that lays back and lets the vocals shine. This is again a theme of Sabzi’s production.

The last song, Drinkin’ Outta Cups, is the musical equivalent of a Hawaii dream vacation. Although it’s about the end of Summer and all the things that go with it, the song actually makes you want to hear more. The rhymes talk about the rappers’ respective Summer times like partying and writing songs. “I don’t want this to be the end of the time we get to spend/ So tell when I ever get to see you again”. A perfect ending to the Summer and the best beginning to new adventures.

This EP as a whole is a great listen end to end. From Sabzi’s production to the rhymes from P2DaHI and The Amature, the Summer will never end as long as you have Whatupdoe From Blat! in your collection.

Oh My God: “The Night Undoes the Work of the Day” Review

Lansingmusic.tv will be interviewing Oh My God before their show at Mac’s Bar on Friday September 24,2010. In preparation for the interview and the great show that will follow, I figure that it would be good if I did a review of their newest record “The Night Undoes the Work of the Day” from Split Red Records. Here we go…

First off, let me get my preconceived notions out in the open. When I first read about them, they were described as “Art Rock”, which these days can mean any number of things. I was expecting something like King Crimson or the like. What I got was something completely different and I’m happy my preconceived notions were thrown out the window.  The first song, My Own Adventure, has a very catchy and danceable back beat. The pianos and the vocals of Billy O’Neill make the song feel very light-hearted and overall an easy listen. There are hints of synths here and there but the overall the song pretty much plays it safe.

My Prayer has a very heartfelt vocal and the chorus, although short, includes handclaps that give the song a fun, party vibe. Guitars, which have only been heard in OMG’s music since 2008′s “Fools Want Noise!”, are low in the mix but add depth to the song and the band’s overall sound. Pianos are consistent theme on this particular record. Bring Yourself includes a dark, almost sad piano melody. A line that adds to the darker theme is “nothing gets any easier”. It actually is almost uplifting in its sadness. Their sound is even more layered than the previous song as strings and fuzzed out synths push the song along and add depth too.

Baby There’s Nothin’ Wrong (You Just Gotta Go To Work) as a lyric, is repeated over and over almost to the point of beating a dead horse. It is repetitive and indulgent. For it’s shortcomings however, the vocal line in question is very catchy and varying synths sprinkle the song. If that line wasn’t repeated so much, it might grow on me, but it’s just there too much. The next song, I Don’t Think It’s So Funny (how time slips away), is a rebound however. It is the most experimental song on the record. All kinds of obscure sounds and guitars push the song from the intro to the verse. Then the verse scales all of that back as a slide, bass and harmony vocals dominate. The bridge does much of the same but instead of a slide guitar, piano takes its place. The vocals themselves are soothing and lighthearted; almost ballad-like. The end of the song goes into full-on rocking mode with guitars blaring as synths drone about.

The rocking continues with One Thing Leads to Another. The fast drum pace and quick guitar licks are almost bluesy. Verse breakdowns bring back more experimental synths then the guitar rocking continues. This is by far the best song on the record if you are looking for a rocker. Baby, Dream is full of R&B vibes. The sultry vocal style and the continuous piano chords add a danceable pace and feel. The song as a whole has an upswing that is undeniable and unmistakable. It will get you dancing, I guarantee it.

My Juliet is a piano ballad with only some bits of bass and synth laid in. The vocal takes centerstage. It is very heartwrenching and the instrumentation helps reflect that. I Dare You to Love Me picks the pace back up. Guitars dominate and the drums are extremely catchy. Pianos and vocal melodies coat the song over its hard exterior. The bridge is very minimal and then it pulls you back in with the chorus. For all the build of the song, it ends abruptly. I felt it could have lasted a little longer.

Strangers On A Train is the last and longest song on the record, clocking in at over six minutes. The beat is the coolest thing about the song. As a piano arpeggio plays throughout, a beat almost akin to Trip-Hop pulsates. It is experimental in its pop sensibilities. As the song continues, it gets more and more minimal to the point where only sparse, intricate synths layer throughout and a cymbal wash are the only things left. A dark, and yet again, uplifting synth ends the record.

“Dark, yet uplifting” seems to be the thing I clinged to most when reviewing this record. The band has reportedly been through some troubling times but as this record shows, they are dealing with their personal issues well. Music (and art in general) can be a window into the life of a person or people at a particular time and this record is just such the case. The music is filled with interesting sounds and rhythms. The vocals and melodies are a catchy, soothing listen. Although sometimes lines are repeated too much, making them less interesting and listenable. This record, overall, is a great mix of piano-driven ballads and up tempo rocking that you should pick up.

Visit http://ohmygodmusic.com for info. on their current tour and their current CD, “The Night Undoes the Work of the Day”. Be sure to check out Lansingmusic.tv’s interview with Oh My God when it gets done.

The Fuzz reunite on Saturday 9/11 at The Loft

Since Lansing’s The Fuzz broke up in 2005, people have been wanting to see The Fuzz play at least one more show. Now, you will get the chance. The Fuzz will be playing this Saturday at The Loft with Elliot Street Lunatic, Paradisiac, Audrey and Jetpack On!. Daniel Veale, guitarist and vocalist of The Fuzz, says that he “has always wanted another Fuzz show” and that the band “split up kind of abruptly and we never got a proper farewell show”.

Before this abrupt breakup, The Fuzz were one of best up-and-coming bands out of Lansing. Their two full length LPs, Remember to Forget and Noise Destroyers, were critically acclaimed by sites like Allmusic.com. Veale says that Noise Destroyers “stands up as an album”. The band’s layered instrumentation was often performed live with ease. Veale says “There are at least a billion keyboard tracks on that record and we still manage to pull it off live”. He also attributes their sound to synthesizer player Nathan Brown’s production, calling him “a studio genius”.

This cohesiveness within The Fuzz as a band and their music spread to other bands and projects later on. When The Fuzz broke up, Veale moved on to form the band Paradisiac, which is still active. Veale also says that The Fuzz’s other members, Brown, Brandon Raudebaugh (bass) and Brandon Mead (drums) have contributed to other local bands like The Pusherz, Wanderjahr and The Peddlers.

As for more from The Fuzz, Veale says that a full-blown Fuzz reunion is unlikely but other plans could be afoot. “Recording the songs we never got around to recording is something we have recently talked about and is highly probable” he said. Veale is certain of one thing: “I’m pretty sure all four of us will continue to make weird, loud music for quite some time”.

  • Be sure to see The Fuzz, Elliot Street Lunatic, Audrey and Jetpack On! at The Loft this Saturday, 9/11/10 at 8pm. Tickets are as follows: $5 in advance, $6 for 21+, $10 for 18+

Christmas in September: Johnny Unicorn at Mac’s Bar Review

Christmas definitely came early for those who saw Johnny Unicorn‘s set at Mac’s Bar on Friday September 3rd. Unicorn, who released Sweet Edith Manton this Summer, came to Mac’s Bar on his first national tour that started earlier this year. What the audience got were the gifts of a good time, funny moments and rocking music from Good Old Johnny Unicorn.

Accompanied only by his guitar and a programmed synth, his set started off with some improvisation, which is indicative of his progressive rock roots. He then went straight into the ballad, The River Grand. This showcased his incredible singing talent and catchy songwriting side. The melody itself as well as the knife-cuttingly high notes he hits help it stay in your head and keep you into the song. Johnny is also capable of melting faces with his rock music too. Science, a new song from Manton, was driven by his pulsating guitar lines and the build up, breakdown style of the verses. The end of  the song is where the heaviness kicks in and then, it’s over in a flash. Quick and rocking, a good combination.

Going from rocking to another ballad like White Man, Red Hand may seem like a momentum killer but with Johnny, he keeps the audience in the palm of his hand. Again, his singing ability is on display and that’s what is captivating about his performance. He can substitute a rocking guitar line with his voice yet still keep the same attention of the audience. The Johnny Unicorn experience continued with yet another style change into rap music with the song Bull Crap. As I was listening, it was hard to accurately pick out what he was saying; only small words and phrases leaked out. He ran circles around me with his faster-than-a-jack-rabbit wordplay and lyricism. He also demonstrated his incredible talent to get the audience involved in the songs by getting the crowd to chant along to the chorus of “Bull Crap!”. I knew before I had ever seen him play live that he was something special, but it was this song that confirmed it.

The next song, Riverman, brought everyone back to the 1980s (even if they weren’t alive then). Marching band-esque horn synths jammed along as Unicorn sings quirky lines like “put your lips inside me for your health”. Weird Al is a stated influence of Unicorn’s and this song shows that. Aware of the Bear takes another musical turn, this time into country music. As with his rapping and ballads, he excels at this style as well. Midway through the song he got the crowd to hold a multitude of notes (none of which I can name) and the crowd did surprisingly well.

After this musical lesson from Professor Unicorn, the set ended with a song certainly befitting the month of September, I Can’t Believe It’s Christmas. Regardless of the month, the song was a great cap to the show. His set included everything from rock, rap and country to the crowd chanting along and singing. This show was probably the best, most enjoyable and engrossing show I’ve ever seen. If you haven’t had the chance to see him play, do yourself a favor and go see him. You won’t regret it.

Visit his website, johnnyunicorn.com, for the remaining tour dates on this current tour. For more Johnny Unicorn music, visit http://johnnyunicorn.bandcamp.com/ for free downloads.

Setlist:

The River Grand
Science
White Man Red Hand
Bullcrap
Riverman
Aware of the Bear
A Letter from the Patriarchy
I Can’t Believe it’s Christmas
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