People Named Michael

By: Derek Spencer

There’s a lot of god damn people named Michael in this world, and it feels like half of them have requested I review their god damn music. This post is for a bunch of you musicians named god damn Michael.

Michael Sterns

Hello Michael Sterns (or “Mike”, as you call yourself on your bandcamp page). I appreciate your honesty here Mike. There are a lot of people making music alone in their dorm rooms these days. It takes grit to fess up. You could have left that to my imagination, Mike, leaving me to imagine you as a solo artist with his own studio band. But you’re an honest guy, Mike, a real stand up guy.

You’re also a precise guy. Like on that song, when you sing “when I was 22/and you were 19”. Those aren’t round numbers, Mike. Those are specific numbers, and I appreciate that attention to detail. Mike, you’d be surprised how rare attention to detail is these days. Trust me, I know.

Anyways, I like your shit, Mike. You have gumption. You have real pizzaz. You pull back and push forward. Dynamics! You got em. Tone! You think about it. Real high quality stuff here Mike. You got the whole singer-songwriter thing down. I mean, sometimes I wish you were saying different words, but cringe-inducing earnestness is part of the indie game, isn’t it?

Biggest negative here has got to be these sound effects. Man. If I knew how to make memes I would do one where Bernie Sanders likes spoken word interludes and Hilary thinks it’s a good idea to put lightning sounds and alarm clocks in your tracks.

You know, you’re doing yourself a disservice by calling this album Collegiate Daydreams. That name makes me think your too young for this to be good. And maybe you are young, and maybe this isn’t good in the professional and/or critical sense, like maybe you can’t make money doing this, or like maybe you could have made money doing this but only if you had a time machine to go back and release the music years ago. But, point is, you don’t sound like a Collegiate Daydreamer, Mike. You sound like maybe a twenty-something go-getter. Or like at least, like, a graduate underachiever. You get what I’m saying, right Mike? Of course you do.

Michael Blackmond

Michael fucking Blackmond. You record under the name Dora the Destroyer, but you’re a Michael, through and through. It’s in your music. Don’t hide from that.

Anyways, Michael, I gotta hand it to you. You and Mike up there are repping the Michael crew well with your honestly. Glad to know Michaels like you are out there ready to disclose the fact that you recorded all of your prog metal songs in your living room. Thanks!

I like when you get all metal with it. The thumpity thump suits you, Michael. Sometimes, though, you get all leggity-leggi-wah with your metal, and it kinda feels like I’m playing Sonic the Hedgehog. In fact, did you score any Sonic the Hedgehog games? According to this list, you didn’t, but maybe you have an alias?

Anyways, I imagine that the word you’d like people to describe your music with is “soaring”. and I’ll give you that, Michael, sometimes this music soars. But sometimes it putters, too. Sometimes, I’m not really sure what to think. You got these Joe Satriani vibes that really take me out of my Sonic space, you know what I mean? I think you do. Oh and the synths! Really not working for me, Michael. Gotta say.

End of the day, I could see this being fuck-wit-able. I don’t think anyone will ever fuck to this music, but that’s a whole different question. Thanks Michael!

Michael Byrne!

Michael Byrne! Sausage suit in a Sam Adams! Your email says (not making this up, readers) that you go by Dirty Mike, and I think that’s god damn swell. I like how your friend is named Uncle Jesse too. The album here, folks, is Die Until Ur Not Alive Anymore… by The Raspberry Keystones.

Dirty Mike, it says in your email that you aren’t really sure what genre your music is. I think that’s a good question! It’s a little bit puzzling to me too, if I’m being totally honest. Let me say this, your music sounds like strung out teenagers rapping over Animal Collective‘s Campfire Songs. But with surprising wit (at times!)! I think we are permitted to call this “experimental”. Does that work for you?

Anyways, Dirty Mike, y’all got some promise here! Sure, we’re missing some vital production elements that might be necessary to qualify this as listenable music to the majority of the population, but what they’ll call “stupid shit” I call a “niche product”.

Middle track “Above Ground Places” stands out to me as the most captivating composition. It’s like your version of a banger.

The covers are a bit baffling, both in choice and style, but that’s okay! This EP seems like a great place for ol’ Dirty Mike and Uncle Jesse to stretch their wings and figure out what works. In this humble reviewers opinion, covering “Sleepwalker” might not be your strong suit. But now we know!

Past and Future Michaels

There are quite a few Michaels I didn’t get to here. But don’t worry! I will endeavor to review all people named Michael before anyone else gets reviewed.

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ALBUM REVIEW: Low Spokes by Lucas Van Lenten

Released two and a half years ago, Lucas Van Lenten’s Low Spokes espouses a particular brand of triteness that has since faded from favor. Nonetheless, the album succeeds in it’s appeal to late-indie’s most relatable brand of irony.

The 11-song LP is not dissimilar from a young child that knows how to use her cuteness to gain advantage– you know they know what their doing, but your cultural and neurological predispositions prevent you from doing anything but saying “aww, how cute!”  When Van Lenten sings “and they all come down like rain into us/ we’re born of stardust and luck” I would strongly prefer to not feel the affect of goosebumps down my neck. And yet here we all are. Plenty of Van Lenten’s lyrics fall short of the mark (“there’s no clock to strike the hour/ just the creep of deadly flowers on the stairs”, “a baker’s dozen/ snow-white roses/ picked for no one”), and yet his delivery and evocative structures manage to carry a sufficient number through to the heart-strung finish line.

Low Spokes opens with the bouncy “San Sebastian”, a sign of all the Cloud Cult derivations and emotional manipulations to come. Utilizing lush backing harmonies, an accordion, and a sleigh bell, Van Lenten settles back into his wheelhouse on “Pocketful of Blackbirds.” As a general rule, Van Lenten is less successful when he picks up the electric guitar– exemplified dully on “Black Veruza”. Aside from forgettable tone choices, guitar driven tracks on this album leave behind the dynamics and ambiance that make other selections so successful. By the time we hit “Speak of the Devil”, the first notes of mandolin appear to be god-sent. The light-hearted “Out in the Streets” stands out from the album, as it shirks the oh-so-of-it’s-time signals and instead blends Queen-esque guitar harmonies with Your Favorite Weapon-era Brand New vocal patterns. Unfortunately, it is followed up by the utterly skippable “Toledo Facedown” before Van Lenten finds his natural resting point to end the album in the serenely triumphant “Shake the Bells Down”.

The songs are littered with radio-signal-space-flanger sound interludes that I have no idea what to do with, especially in light of the album’s excusable over-sentimentality. My only other reference point for this strange intersection is the Sagen-influenced 90’s film Contact— and yet I somehow don’t believe this is the intended reference. Even when ignoring the extraneous, however, listeners can look to Low Spokes as an album that clearly knows it’s strengths, audience, and intended effect.

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Island Man by Brandon Spaulding

By: Derek Spencer

Abbreviated psychedelia with a Midwestern warmth: a world where tripping lasts half an hour and ambiance is antiquated (but still nice to have around once in a while because antiques are nice things).  2001: A Space Odyssey is the length of a commercial and The Odyssey itself is a pocket Spanish-English dictionary.  This is the established world of Indianapolis-based Brandon Spaulding’s first release: “Island Man” (2015), a record that yearns for the dissociated or introspective experience, and yet does little work in the way of carrying the listener along to its intended destination.

One might be tempted to compare the rock’n’roll brevity and high-overdriven sound of Spaulding’s work to The Coachwhips; and yet it seems that John Dwyer never aspired to the sort of youthful idealism and middle-of-America warmth that Spaulding grasps at.  There is something immediately Buffet-esque  at the line “I don’t want to have a plan/I just want to be an island man”.  In fact, at this moment, I truly believe the ‘Island Man’ to be a 21st-century, Indiana-specific adaptation of Camus‘ “Absurd Man”, demonstrating a lazily-heated, Franco-Algerian existentialism (I’ll consult a grad student and get back to you on this one).  Unfortunately, at first consideration of the lyrics, listeners find themselves at an impasse: absorbing some of the droopy-surreal lyrics on this album is necessary to follow the standard psch-noise themes sprinkled through these snippets of sound, and yet, to listen to the lyrics closely is to drag oneself through lines like “you make me want to get hit by a car” and “on this cold winter night, I know it ain’t right”.

While lyrics both colorful and overlookable shine through at times, the vocals sit in the mix very differently across the album.  Perhaps this is because Island Man was recorded on a 4-track in Spaulding’s bedroom, or perhaps Spaulding is highlighting the fractal, disjointed nature of our own voice turned inward, meditating on the very idea of self-critique itself.  In either case, Island Man is an earnest, if not respectable, first attempt, manifested in a collection of songs that may or may not entice the psychedelic inner-self, may or may not connect with one’s longing for a solitary existential existence, but will almost certainly find a home in the basement venues of central Indiana.

Pitchfork Rating: 6.2

Arbitrary Rating: 10,011 grains of sand on an island only you understand

My rating: I might throw it on a playlist alongside The Coachwhips, Pink & Brown, Frankie Cosmos, The Agrarians, Inspector 22, & Henry Rollin’s spoken word material to be listened to while I clean my apartment.

Stray Observations:
– My favorite track actually might be the brief dark-ambient track: “At the Bottom of the Ocean”. It (jokingly) sounds like the score to a movie in which an army of sentient basketballs declare war on the ocean and (seriously) might be a good tone to work more organically into other songs on future releases.
– Spaulding seems like he’s still deciding what vocal style works for him.  While the vocals could never be described as less than average, I personally prefer his “stoned Connor Oberst” style over his “Bob Dylan” moments.