City Slang: Weekly Music Review Roundup

So here’s the deal. As part of this new City Slang music section shake-up, I’ll be reviewing any and every piece of new local music that I receive for this weekly review roundup at No matter the genre, regardless of whether the media is vinyl, CD, MP3, cassette, or anything else - if the artist or label is local to the Detroit area, it’ll get reviewed right here. The pick of the bunch will also get in the newspaper when space permits.
Send music for review to: Brett Callwood, Metro Times, 733 St. Antoine, Detroit, MI 48226. Send MP3s or streaming links to [email protected]. And join us on Twitter: @City_Slang

The Neon Escape’s full length We Won’t Wait Any Longer (self-released) comes complete with a nice glossy digi-pack sleeve, and the super-sheen production reflects that. The songs are cute enough, with “Across The Sky” a highlight, but their attempts at sounding like a cross between Queen and Queens of the Stone Age actually result in a sound best described as diet-Rush. Not horrible, and very well performed. But too polished to be thrilling.

Billy Brandt & Sarana Verlin have both been playing in and around the Detroit music scene for decades, so their new Live From Billy’s Basement (Drumdancer) CD holds no small amount of intrigue. Verlin, for those unaware, was the original singer in Dark Carnival, preceding Niagara (that band would also later feature Ron Asheton, among many others). However, here she’s anything but a punk princess. With Brandt and the Basement Band, she forms a formidable folk group; traditional and soothing, yet fun and, when required, rambunctious. How many people were able to fit into Bill’s basement for this live performance remains a mystery.

Circus Boy’s second album has, by all accounts, no real name. It might be self-titled, or it might be called Michigan Palace (self-released) because there’s a picture of that venue on the cover. Whatever, those that heard the first album will know what to expect. Circus Boy are so terrible, so damned trashy and obnoxious, that they might actually be the purest and most incredible punk band to have burst out of Detroit in the last 20 years. The cast of characters have, between them, played with just about everyone and now they don’t give a shit. The fun, therefore, is in the not-giving-a-shit, and there’s plenty of fun to be had.

There’s much to enjoy with Gravetown’s album, Red River (Manster), a fairly standard but undeniably fun outlaw country album with subject matter ranging from drinking to card to girls to, well, that’s about it.

Still, for seriously single-minded lyrical content, try Ajax & the Midwest Connoisseurs’s Mainstream Pollution Chapter 2 (Purple Hash Productions). Every square inch of cover art is dedicated to marijuana, and the hip-hop lyrics, well executed as they are, are no different. Even Cypress Hill was able to divert its attention now and again. It all gets tedious very quickly, though there’s undoubtedly a niche market for this stoner rap.

While there are elements of folk and rock in the Blueflowers sound, they really aren’t a “folk-rock” band, and they certainly don’t have a whole lot in common with the likes of Jethro Tull. Rather, singer Kate Hinote has a voice that at times recalls the earthy and honest splendor of Joni Mitchell. There are other moments on In Line With the Broken-Hearted (Analog Terror) though, like on the opening “In Your Shadow” when she slips into a Siouxsie wail and then, on “The Lovely Ones”, operatic Kate Bush majesty. Musically, the band keeps to the well-trodden Americana path fairly faithfully, but they do it with such style, such subtle panache, that they almost sound innovative. With Hinote leading the lines, the result is an album that is as haunting and soul-invading as it is enthralling. Songs like the title track and “Fragile” give the listener the impression that they’re in on a secret, like they’re reading Hinote’s diary. That level of refreshing honesty, some damned fine tunes and the stellar musicianship of the band is what makes In Line With the Broken-Hearted such a tremendous piece of work.

The Buck Brothers are actually an English punk outfit, though this We Are Merely Filters album is released via the very Detroit label Static Records . The music is fun punk in that old school English way. Think the Buzzcocks and Cock Sparrar, with something more contemporary like Goldfinger (who the Buck Brothers – who aren’t brothers at all – opened up for) thrown in.

The Peoples Temple has been getting some hefty attention worldwide with their Sons Of Stone (HoZac) album and there’s something endearing and charming about the Lansing quartets psychedelic rock. Any one of these tracks could have been pulled off of Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets compilation, and it’s that level of authenticity that should put these boys ahead of pseudo-garage bands like Wolfmother.

HafLife’s Drive-In Theatre (Urban Legends Detroit) features the crazy foursome at their b-movie driven, White Zombie influenced best. The songs are rooted in that ‘90s industrial metal that Zombie and the like made so popular. In 2011, they inarguably sound dated but, for those that care little about the “cool factor”, there’s still fun to be had with this band’s high speed hi-jinx.

In a similar industrial vein is Crud with the sophomore release Crud On Monster Island (Three One Three). Frontman Vin Dombroski (of Sponge and the Orbitsuns fame, for those that have been living under a rock) obviously has a blast writing for Crud, able to throw every feshistic fantasy and horror theme into the mix with glorious abandon. “We’ll Not Be Broken” is a highlight, a fist-pumping slab of anthemic hard rock that, with a cleaner production, could easily have wound up on a Sponge album.

Gold Tapes is a label that, as the name would suggest, only puts out its releases on cassette. For review purposes that meant digging out the old Walkman, although that was fun in a nostalgic sort of way. Anyway, the Kickstand Band’s Kitty Kat Sessions (Gold Tape) is awesome. Claims that Detroit garage rock is dead are blown away in ten short minutes by four short songs, each one a finely crafted rock ’n’ roll gem. Check these guys out and, if you don’t own a cassette player, it’s worth buying one just to listen to this single.

Kommie Kilpatrick’s 2 Many Dudes (Gold Tapes) is as shitty, obnoxious and dumb as one could have hoped for from these punks who shamelessly ignore the concept of progress, instead aping the old school punk rock identikit format, playing their songs fast and hard, and saying “fuck” as many times as they can. For Kommie, the cassette release is perfect as they’re built on retro fashion and they care little for things like “production”. If that sounds negative, it isn’t. These foul boys have found their niche and they’re safety-pinning themselves to it.

The Pizazz’s Face Parade (Gold Tapes) is the follow up to their acclaimed Get Out Of My House LP. It’s awesome too, all late ‘70s / early ‘80s post-punk filth and grime. Fans of Joy Division, Gang of Four, Magazine and Wire will lap this up.

Deadbeat Beat features the guys from the Decks minus the bassist who had to up and leave town suddenly. The Decks were (or are?) a great band but it’s hard to miss them too much when this debut release, When I Talk To You (Gold Tapes) is so damned good. The bubblegum surf of the former band is still there, but the ‘60s garage influence has been amped up, perhaps by producer and Outrageous Cherry man Matt Smith, resulting is a fuzzy and intelligent art pop beast. The songs are immaculate too. Tasty.

Back in the land of CDs, Rachel Brooke’s Down in the Barnyard (self-released) is a release straight out of the past. Not really, it’s a brand new album, but if somebody were to tell you that this is a folky bluegrass album from the beginning of the last century, you’d have no reason to not believe them. Brooke’s voice is hauntingly beautiful, the songs are incredible and even the packaging strikes of a bygone age.

Bear Lake’s third album, If You Were Me, sees the indie rockers pretty much picking up where they left off. The fooling about with electronic gadgetry might have increased a touch, but really this is Bear Lake doing what Bear Lake does, namely sound tunes, harmonies and some sweet chill-out rock. Nothing spectacular and a little too “nice”, but not at all terrible.

Citizen Zero’s debut EP, however, is horrible. Like Nickelback and Creed swapping riffs in Godsmack’s multi-million dollar crib, this release is unimaginative, soulless and too generic to devote any more space to.

Far better is In Tall Buildings’ new single, Warm Rock, which is very promising. The rough production leads to moments that are reminiscent of (whisper it) the Velvet Underground, and the two tunes on offer here are haunting, melodic and arty in a really good way. The band is Chicago-based, but leader Erik Hall is also a member of the Ann Arbor band Nomo. Also, they rock. More please.

Mound Road Engine has downloads available on their website, the pick of which is “Ode”, a deliberately dated slab of female-fronted metal that brings Doro and her Warlock back to mind for the first time in 20 years. Nothing wrong with that.

There’s nothing metal about sAMPLE tHE mARTIAN, an electronica-fused hip-hop act that is as amusing as he’s clever. The lyrics are tight, the tunes are catchy as hell and the whole Self-Made Loner record is a breath of fresh air.

Scott Hamilton’s Small Stone Records can always be relied upon for some heavy-as-shit hard rock and the latest batch of releases from the Royal Oak-based label are as awesome as they are predictable. Ironweed’s Your World of Tomorrow (Small Stone) features more than a hint of Soundgarden, but then Chris Cornell’s band was always a stoner outfit anyway and grunge was myth. But anyway. Every tune on here is a winner, and Ironweed seem to get that little bit stronger with each year that passes.

Lo-Pan’s Salvador (Small Stone) is equally impressive, having as much in common with Dio as it does with Kyuss. Salvador is a straight up metal album and it makes no apologies. Crushing.

Tia Carrera’s Cosmic Priestess (Small Stone) EP is brutal, uncompromising, generic stoner rock. If that’s your bag, you’ll love it. No surprised, just riff after riff after motherfucking riff.

SuplecsMad Oak Redoux (Small Stone) is a fantastic piece of work. It’s like being 18 and listening to Anthrax and Suicidal Tendencies again, and discovering Biohazard for the first time. It’s hardcore-metal crossover, and it’s awesome.

Roadsaw’s Roadsaw (Small Stone) is more in the melodic hard rock vein, though it’s no less magnificent. The songs are strong and the riffs are huge, and there’s ample evidence that this is a band WRIF should be paying attention to rather than drivel like Soil, Hinder or whatever else. All hail Roadsaw.

Detroit Legend (Detroit Street DVD) is a movie tribute to Schoolcraft area rapper Sho Boat, who was killed in a gang-related shooting in 2006. It’s moving too, to see the local hip-hop community speak out for their fallen comrade. It would have been nice to have seen some of Sho Boat’s performance footage, but this movie is really for the people that knew him and miss him, and as such it’s a success.

If there’s one new release that everyone in Detroit should own, it’s the Ashleys’ debut CD Can’t Take It (self-released). The duo has been honing their live set to the point where, by the time they stepped into Ghetto Records to record with Jim Diamond, they were on top of their game. Every one of these seven songs is amazing; dirty, sonic, garage mayhem performed with passion and power. Can’t Take It isn’t just the best release this month; it’s one of the best of the year so far.

Warhorsesare taking the Flaming Lips-esque approach of releasing a new downloadable track every month. The last two, “Rumble Seat Master” and “Horse #5” (self-released) are impressive examples of psychedelic, sludgy retro-rock that seem to see the bands exploring a slightly more subtle way to get their message across than beating people around the heads. It’s interesting to see these obviously talented musicians progress.

The second album from the Sugar People, The Sugaroses Collection (Groovebox), sees the dance-pop-soul collective picking up where they left off with the self-titled debut. The songs are actually a little stronger and, while the production is, as with the first record, in danger of polishing away the band’s personality, this is a band finding its feet with style and a new found swagger.

Err is a local two-piece and its self-titled debut full-lengther (Side One) is a bit of a peach. Dirty, and blessed with some of the nastiest vocals heard so far this year, the duo also allow the songs to shine through. Still, even the cover art is enough to make you shiver. The front shows a kid sticking a knife in a wall socket, while the back displays a medical drawing of a pencil jammed in an ear. That’s exactly what they sound like. In a good way.

Equally as awesome is the self-titled debut from Gardens (Alive), who are getting some hefty national attention thanks to their gorgeous and messy garage rock, proving that the genre never died, it just took a step back for a minute. The whole record is trashy, lo-fi fun and there isn’t a bad song to be heard. They’ve been touring with the likes of the Detroit Cobras and Tyvek, and on this evidence their chops are well and truly honed.

If bands like Lettercamp and Lightning Love have been turning Detroit audiences onto pop, then OttO Vector are unashamedly slapping those same music-lovers round the face on the 14 North Cedgwick (self-released) album, with bouncy, sugary melodies and cute-as-fuck synth, all bulked up with some crunchy, metal riffing. The bands fourth album seems to remarkably marketable, the very definition of radio-friendly. Singer Renee (yup, just the one name) really belts out the tunes, and the production is immaculate. The band isn’t for everyone, but anyone wanting the Lady Gaga experience without the bullshit hype should tune in.

Also very pop-orientated but very different stylistically is Mary Cotter, whose self-released 5-track demo CD is a bit fucking special. The musicianship is perfectly haphazard, and that deliberate mess magically compliments the beautifully choreographed tunes. Even the artwork, featuring some sort of shoddily painted monster / robot band, is awesome (in fact, looking at her Facebook page, it seems that she has drawn a different cover for every individual demo). Is there such a thing as art-pop? If not, there is now.

On the first of four releases from the very local Mack Avenue Records label this week the New Gary Burton Quartet’s Common Ground (Mack Avenue) sees jazz veteran and vibraphone pioneer Burton performing with a new band, although you wouldn’t know it. No matter which way Burton pulls his crew, they all follow seamlessly. The record is all instrumental, and it’s really not for the jazz newcomer. But fans of this stuff will have a wet dream about this record.

YellowjacketsTimeline (Mack Avenue) sees the jazz band celebrate 30 years together. In that time, they’ve obviously grown as close together as four men can get. Timeline is relatively accessible for the non-jazz-nut; they don’t veer too far from the beaten path and the melody isn’t far away at any one moment, and yet there is plenty here to keep fans of the genre happy too.

Sean JonesNo Need For Words (Mack Avenue) is a stunning piece of work. Yes, this is jazz also, but there’s something about the way Jones accentuates the notes with his trumpet that makes it impossible not to get pulled in. It’s a real Pied Piper situation, and it’s incredibly enlightening.

Danilo Pérez’s Providencia (Mack Avenue) is similarly enjoyable, though in different ways. This composer and pianist has mastered the art of subtlety, splashing color wildly when he wishes but holding back when necessary. The result is a record that could quite easily be an indie movie score. A good one, too.

After all that jazz, what better than some basic, rowdy punk rock? The Slammin’ Zeros provide exactly that on Good Enough For Us (self-released), and nothing more. Really, there’s very little to write about these guys. It’s noisy, riffy, Black Flag / Dead Kennedys-inspired hardcore punk rock to get drunk and start a pit to.

Citizen Smile has been gigging around the area for a few years now and building up a decent fan base thanks to some quirky tunes, a dash of indie swagger and four pairs of puppy dog eyes. This five-track EP, Keepsakes (self-released) isn’t spectacular but it’s nice enough. There are some naïve high-school-band lyrics on here and they obviously need to grow, but they have the makings of a decent pop ’n’ roll quartet.

Patrick Davy and the Ghosts are good friends of Citizen Smile, and also the Ashleys, and Davy’s Outside Empty (self-released) seven-track CD is a belter. Having seen them live, expectations were low when listening to this disc, but there’s a lo-fi, ragged splendor to all seven songs, and a poignant beauty that’s impossible to get away from. “Where It Began” is the highlight of a great record.

Douglas La Ferle’s Professor Pandemonium’s Cabinet of Wonders (Round Box) is the most wonderfully unusual record released in these parts (or any parts) for a good while. Royal Oak man La Ferle has put out a record that sounds like the soundtrack to a child’s fantasy movie or the background music at a 19th century sideshow carnival. It’s the kind of music they should be playing at Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum. It’s freaky, creepy, silly and tremendous fun.

Shoe is not a particularly good name for a band. It is, in actual fact, a dreadful name for a rock ’n’ roll band. Fortunately, this The Speed of Life (self-released) album is a lot better than that name would suggest. Mirrortwin bassist Jamiel Dado is in the band alongside frontman Dustin Gardner, who has a Brit Pop-esque voice that doesn’t sound at all out of place on these indie rock anthems.

There aren’t many bands like the Shy around anymore. Rooted in the same ‘80s pop that the likes of Level 42 and Hall & Oats used to mess around with, the Shy are polished and synthy, and completely devoid of Detroit grit, if the Walk on a Wire (self-released) album and Three on the Tree (self-released) Christmas single are anything to go by, besides a decent cover of Barry McGuires ‘60s protest song “Eve of Destruction”. The Shy have been around for years and, by now, they will know what their small group of fans wants to hear, so good luck to them.

P-A-U-L (otherwise known as Paul Lamb) has been one of the better blues-rockers in the Detroit area for much of the past 10 years, and Tales From the Gravel (Intune / Heritage) is his third full-length album. It’s predictably a cracker too; all Seger-esque vocals and Kerouac-style tales from the road. You can practically smell the gasoline, sweat and cigarettes.

There’s a lot of fun to be had with The End is Near (Hell City), the first album from local punks Boom Swagger Boom (what a great name that is too). Local label Hell City Records are putting out some great, dirty punk rock and these guys certainly fit that mold. Nihilistic and angry but also blessed with some great tunes, The End is Near is rounded off with an awesome cover of Nirvana’s Territorial Pissings”.

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