On the Download

Man alive — times are strange! The skies are slate gray, we're on the verge of either falling into the abyss economically, politically, personally ... or not. Every day feels like a test of your will to simply persevere. The gales of November are starting to blow over the horizon, and the Halloween season gives the whole thing an alternately whimsical and spooked patina. But it's times like these when a sonic analogue of spookiness and atmosphere in the forms of online jams is a valid exit strategy from the day-to-day.


Why shouldn't we add another figure to the crypto-zoological pantheon? Northern Michigan author Steve Cook created The Legend of Michigan's Dogman 20 years ago as an April Fool's prank on Traverse City's WTCM-FM. He pulled inspiration from tales of the Jersey Devil, the bog monster of Arkansas, and, of course, Bigfoot. As the story goes, simply, there's a creature that's part man and part dog who roams the woods after dark, spooking the denizens of rural northern Michigan. Everyone, the story goes, joked about the sounds they heard at night, blaming it on raccoons. But as Cook intones in one of the music-accompanied variations: "Nobody joked, nobody slept/ after the sun went down about 'Something walkin' round outside the windahs, scratching at the ground.'"

The Up North details of the locale as well as the gravitas of Cook's campfire story tone are a treat that's both entertaining and — if you let the story in and happen to be, say, on a back road near Mancelona at night — eerie. It seems to have spawned a sort of cottage industry, too, as a visit to his official website offers T-shirts, CDs and even a recently released 20th anniversary CD/DVD set.


Every year around this time, I start to get spooked on night walks, thinking of Detroit's legendary Red Dwarf. Sightings of the little devil seem to pop up at times of distress (as the city burned in the 1800s; as the city burned again in 1967; as the city burned yet again in the wake of the 1984 World Series victory, etc., etc.). So it'd only make sense that he show up in the corner of our imagination right about now. However, I come not to extol the virtues of legendary creatures, but rather to praise the desperately loud ruckus put forth by the hardcore-noise-metal quartet of the same name. They're playing their final three shows this weekend (or, as they've dubbed it, "The Final Brodown"). The Detroit show of the trilogy goes down at the Trumbullplex. Once you're at the dudes' MySpace page, turn up whatever crappy or awesome speakers you've got on the old computer machine and howl away to such jams as "Lovitz" (sadly, no mention of Morgan Fairchild ... b'doom-tsh) or the gut-punch roil of "Napoleon Complex."


Regrettably chopped from a previous column extolling the virtues of Grand Rapids' music scene was the Mighty Narwhale. The boys and girl who comprise this septet, named after the Unicorn of the Sea, have just released a new set of songs under the banner A Ship Without a Country, A Mast Without a Sail. Head over to their MySpace page where you'll be greeted by the autumnal joys of "Pumpkin Furious," which is packed full of rollicking accordions, violins, a gang of guitars and shout-along vocals that simultaneously conjure closing time and the crunch of dead leaves crunching underfoot. "Night Lights" is a joyfully arcing and crashing pop song, adorned with horns, strings, accordion and a hopeful simplicity. Properly booked, the Mighty Narwhale would share a triple bill with their pals and "Northern Rock" kingpins the Great Lakes Myth Society and the Pogues, I'd reckon.

Till next time ...