As summer kicks into high gear, get ready to test-drive a new batch of tunes from emerging local and regional artists.
The June edition of “The Stratton Playlist” will gain traction with grungy alt rock, lo-fi jazzy soul, inspirational pop rock, indie folk, bouncy pop punk, dancy pop, melodic prog rock, bouncy pop punk and uplifting country.
Last year, Torrey Mercer unknowingly penned a fitting anthem for 2020.
The Los Angeles pop singer-songwriter co-wrote a peppy, ironic new track, “This is Fine,” about perpetually living in disarray with pop-rock singer-songwriter and producer Una Jensen.
“We wrote this in December of 2019, which is wild to think about, considering the times we are in now. It was meant to be a song about feeling like a ‘hot mess,’ little did we know. The song is meant to be a pick-me-up in some hard times, which I hope it can be for others during the times we find ourselves in,” said Mercer, who released the track in May.
Mercer beautifully exposes that frustrating, turbulent world throughout “This is Fine,” which fuses gleaming acoustic strums, bouncy synths, thumping bass and striking electronic drums in a poppy, cheeky ode to bad days. She nonchalantly sings, “My bank account just froze/Bedroom full of dirty clothes/Of course I stubbed my toe/What day is my cycle/There it goes.”
“It was inspired by a meme we are both familiar with on the Internet originally created by KC Green. The original artist gave us permission, and we recreated his art for the album art of the song, which was fun. The song has lots of quirky details in it, which started with both of us listing things that we were feeling at the time,” Mercer said.
“We wrote this song in its entirety in about two and a half hours, all in one sitting. And we spent a few weeks nailing down final vocals, production and mixing. It was actually a total fluke we wrote this song before the current moment we are facing in the world, and when everything started happening, I realized it might be the perfect moment for this song. I’m glad we got to release it.”
“This is Fine” isn’t the only shiny, effervescent new material Mercer has dropped this year. In February, she released Boys/Girls, a vibrant, inspirational six-track EP filled with bisexual anthems, misogynistic tales, patriarchal challenges, changing relationships, inner revelations and personal empowerment.
“This EP was meant to be a liberation for me as a woman and as a bisexual. In the music industry, there’s a lot of pressure to perform a version of yourself that is more likeable to others. This project was about taking the duct tape off my own mouth and embracing what makes me different and outspoken,” she said.
Doogatron brilliantly channels the artistic spirit and creative legacy of the late Andrew Weatherall.
The Ypsilanti techno duo of Stevie Tee and Kyle (and occasional trio with Michael) seamlessly stitches midtempo acid house, breakbeat techno and dreamy shoegaze into their latest interstellar Weatherall tribute single, “Audrey Witherspoon.”
Out now via all streaming platforms, “Audrey Witherspoon” beautifully celebrates Weatherall’s illustrious career as an acclaimed U.K.-based DJ, producer and artist who remixed tracks by Happy Mondays, New Order, Björk and My Bloody Valentine. He also added samples, loops and mixes on Primal Scream’s 1991 Mercury Prize-winning album, Screamadelica.
“It’s named ‘Audrey Witherspoon’ based on a pen name he used for gig reviews he wrote prior to his production career. The sequenced acid house bassline coupled with the big shoegaze fuzz guitar and midtempo swagger reminded me a lot of the late ‘80s, early ‘90s second summer of love, ‘Madchester’ sound, so when Andrew passed, it felt right,” Tee said.
Together, Doogatron injects the right amount of high-frequency, intergalactic beats and pulsating bass into the energetic, frenzied techno world of “Audrey Witherspoon.”
The nine-minute astral track also beautifully wraps fuzzy shoegaze guitars, scratchy hip-hop sensibilities, jazzy sax solos from Jamie Goldsmith and cosmic, reverby vocals into a nonstop club jam. (Tee also created a groovy “Gazing at Shoes” mix of music inspired by and taken from outtakes while recording “Audrey Witherspoon.”)
“‘Audrey Witherspoon’ was more in the moment with the two of us getting into a new workflow and trying to fill out as much sound as possible. Instead of Kyle just doing the drum machine or drum programming, he was also doing the bassline sequencing, and that freed me up to start playing guitar and getting into some tones,” said Tee, who also did the vocals for the track.
The Los Angeles indie folk singer-songwriter quickly attracts the “nano” emotions buried deep within the atomic structure of our subconscious on his latest album.
Out Friday via all streaming platforms, Negative Space reveals a microcosm of inner thoughts and deep revelations about failed relationships, reluctant confidants, unspoken feelings, hidden anxieties, turbulent endings, personal resignations, unexpected transitions and closed chapters.
“The overarching themes include a lot of regret and a lot of trepidation until we get to ‘Round January.’ Some of the songs are more personal in that sense than others, and others were more conceptual like ‘Cause for Concern,’ which I had thought of as an album name initially. I thought, ‘People are going to hear these songs, and they’re going to be concerned about my well-being,’” Summit said.
Summit poignantly addresses that fractured sense of well-being throughout Negative Space’s raw, honest 10 tracks. Despite a barrage of dark emotions and difficult experiences, each track moves Summit and listeners one step closer to stronger, wiser and better versions of themselves. Fittingly, Negative Spaceis akin to chronicling years of internal growth and self-acceptance in a 30-minute span.
“Most of the songs were written in a songwriting class at USC. Some of those came from specific prompts like ‘Round January.’ I probably wouldn’t have written that song had it not been for the prompt,” said Summit, who studied songwriting and graduated from the University of Southern California (USC) in May.
“Obviously, you always want them to sound personal, like on ‘Doomed from the Start.’ For that song, I was thinking about my first serious relationship, which started in high school, and how it didn’t last because it was all about learning how to be in a relationship.”
Andy Reed quickly morphs from one musical role to another.
The Bay City pop-rock singer-songwriter seamlessly shifts from acclaimed producer to multi-instrumental collaborator to introspective artist on his latest soaring solo EP, Relay Vol. 2. It’s his second release in a growing series of Relay EPs dedicated to highly-personal, contemplative songs written amidst other projects.
“The songs themselves are a little bit different than I typically write; I am from the power pop school of The Beatles and The Beach Boys. Over the years, I’ve worked with so many artists like Michael Robertson, J.D. Dominowski and Amy Petty, and this is more on singer-songwriter side, and I love that kind of music,” Reed said.
“My goal with this was to be a little more Dawes and be a little more Jason Isbell, but in the background my McCartney-isms are still going to come through, and that kind of stuff too because that’s who I am. I tried to think of it a little bit more from the storyteller’s perspective, and I just wanted to flex that muscle to see if I could do it.”
Reed strongly flexes his songwriting muscle on five poignant tracks about long-lost friends, newfound love, sci-fi journeys, family struggles and childhood nostalgia. He wrote and recorded the reflective Relay, Vol. 2 earlier this year in his home-based Reed Recording Company studio while producing projects for other Michigan artists and working on an upcoming album for The Legal Matters.
“They were all kind of recent personal things that I observed, and it’s definitely my most personal record. I wanted to write new songs because I’ve already handed over the songs for this newest Legal Matters record that we’re gonna do. It’s all the stuff I love about music in a little five-song thing,” said Reed, who played all the instruments on Relay, Vol. 2.
Answering the Call for Ennio Floyd
Reed beautifully opens Relay, Vol. 2 with a shocked response to unexpectedly hearing from a former love interest. “Answer the Call” blends drifting electric guitars, dreamy acoustic strums and soft drums as Reed reflects, “Build the perfect version of a life/Sometimes I can get in the way/Makes it harder each day/No looking back to try to make it right/We’re all better off in the end/Don’t even try to pretend/Seeing all that you took from me/Won’t make it better now/Wonder why you’d think of me at all/I won’t answer the call.”
“I have a buddy who recently went through a separation, and we were sitting together, and his ex called him, and so he saw the number flashing, and said, ‘Oh man, I wonder what that could be for?’ All these emotions just went through his head in like five seconds. What could this be? I was like, ‘Well, we’ve all felt that before.’ Someone calls you that you haven’t talked to in years. Did somebody die? Do they miss me? What is this all about? Don’t they remember they were a jerk to me?” Reed said.
Desmond Jones emphatically speaks for countless voices lost to racial injustice.
The Grand Rapids rock-funk-jazz quintet of Isaac Berkowitz (guitar, vocals), John Nowak (drums), Chris Bota (guitars) George Falk (sax) and Taylor Watson (bass) strongly calls for global accountability, peace and unity on their thought-provoking new single and video, “George Floyd.”
Out today, it serves as a growing rally cry from the band and protesters worldwide after the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Desmond Jones has released “George Floyd” exclusively via Bandcamp and will donate half of the proceeds to the NAACP Grand Rapids and the other half to The Bail Project, a national organization that provides free bail assistance to low-income individuals who are legally presumed innocent.
“At the very least, I hope that it acts as a reminder of George Floyd’s story and the countless stories just like it that happen every day in this country without any repercussions. I hope that it makes people say his name and talk about why or how this could have happened,” said Berkowitz, who wrote the track.
Floyd, 46, died after Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police offer, kneeled on his neck and back for more than eight minutes during an arrest. Two other officers further restrained Floyd while a third prevented onlookers from intervening. Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder while Kiernan Lane, Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao have been charged with second-degree aiding and abetting felony murder as well as second-degree aiding and abetting manslaughter.
In response, Desmond Jones’ compelling “George Floyd” single features thoughtful, echoey electric guitars, soft drums and somber sax as Berkowitz seriously reflects, “I can’t breathe he said, the cycle of oppression/Leaves only one direction to be led/I can’t breathe he said, as we heard the pain of generations past and present pled.”
“I hope that it helps people understand that this behavior and complacency of that behavior is unacceptable in this country and on this planet. With the help of the amazing video Nathan Purchase made, I think this song can show how important these issues are to people and what a serious impact our voices can have when we come together to peacefully make the change that needs to happen,” Berkowitz said.
The impactful “George Floyd” video features raw, candid black and white photos of protesters peacefully marching in Grand Rapids, Detroit, Muskegon and Columbus, Ohio. Five local, independent photographers – Nathan Purchase, Nick Small, Adam Berta, James Saville and Ryan Broton – captured and compiled the historical images during last week’s protests.
“They were able to not only capture and convey the tension and the anger of the situation, but also the unifying demand for peace and unity. Each one of these photographers was able to capture a wider image of the state of our country currently. To see how all these different people from all over were coming together in the middle of a pandemic is a powerful thing to see,” Berkowitz said.
“George Floyd” also serves as Desmond Jones’ second new single and video in less than two months. In April, the band released “Major Burbank” as an ode to Jim Carrey’s legendary performance in the 1998 Academy Award-nominated film, “The Truman Show.” While “Major Burbank” celebrates a lighter side of Desmond Jones’ sound, “George Floyd” pushes the band musically and thematically toward a burgeoning political and social conscience.
“I know we are currently working on more songs that approach these political and social issues, which will be a big step forward for us lyrically and content-wise. However, besides more songs, we have been raising and donating money through livestreams and promoting our favorite local and national black artists, musicians and social leaders on social media,” Berkowitz said.
“We also have been directing people toward charities that are helping as well as local black-owned businesses to shop at. In a way, I think we’ve started to find our voice politically and don’t plan on quieting down. We are lucky enough to have a platform and right now we believe it’s right to use that to help fight against social injustice and shine a light on those who are doing all that they can to make a difference.”
Out now via all streaming platforms, Earth to Astronaut freely flows through indie rock mountains, art punk hills and garage jazz canyons to form a new fertile sound. Through these multi-genre peaks and valleys, atypical song structures and varied tempos, Alluvial Fans’ second album deeply explores the spaces between distorted, mosh-worthy cathartic freak-outs and quiet, sentimental and reflective moments.
“Sometimes your mind goes, and you find yourself jumping from place to place. And that’s sort of how my mind was working at the time and how it has been just kind of scattershot, and now I’m more aware of that. I wanted to represent that kind of fragmented or abstract thought in the lyrics, and in sum, I wanted to become more precise,” said Drew Bartosik, Alluvial Fans’ vocalist-guitarist.
“For the past two years, I’ve been practicing meditation and trying to become more self-aware and mindful of my thoughts and how I act in my environment. Things now are becoming more focused and cohesive for song ideas, and I wanted to highlight the vulnerability in that respect.”
Bartosik and his Alluvial Fans bandmates Gilad Granot (bass) and Ollie Elkus (drums) venture deep beneath the Earth to Astronaut surface to examine a juxtaposition of themes, including technology and nature, independence and interdependence, and reflection, solidarity, and devotion, over 10 expansive, metaphysical tracks.
From ‘Blowouts’ to ‘Droves’
Together, they weave an erratic, yet refreshing jazz-punk-garage-rock fusion on their latest single, “Blowout/Future Games,” which starts with light cymbal taps and delicate electric guitar and quickly erupts into a frantic musical cataclysm.
During the “Blowout” section, Bartosik eagerly shouts, “Yeah!/You never look me in the eyes these days/You’re so far gone/You’re so far” and memorably repeats, “Two for my friends/One for myself.” The first half also serves as a scintillating ode to the Detroit-Hamtramck indie rock scene.
Next, “Blowout” seamlessly segues to the mellow, thoughtful “Future Games” section with light drums, calm vocals and easygoing electric guitar strums. Bartosik quietly sings, “If the future’s playing games with me?/Who is the player playing games?/It’s just the future playing games with me/It’s just the future playing games.” Here, Alluvial Fans questions the uncertainty that lies ahead, especially in an unthinkable year like 2020.
BESTMAN instantly creates the perfect summer adrenaline rush.
The Chicago synth-pop quartet immediately invigorates the nostalgic senses on their shimmering ‘80s-fueled new single, “August,” which dropped May 29 via all streaming platforms.
“I’ve always wanted to write a song for Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. That’s my equivalent to Pacific Coast Highway or Route 66 – my Don Henley ode. I really wanted that song to feel the energy and excitement about possibilities. I always picture it as windows down on the way to see your lover. A lot to look forward to, and a hint of sexiness,” said Brian Clouthier, BESTMAN’s vocalist, guitarist and synthesist.
Clouthier and his BESTMAN bandmates Jay Spiwak (synths), Greg Gaffud (synths) and Adam Bonich (drums) beautifully capture the sonic essence of a humid Midwest ‘August’ night as pounding electronic drums, glistening, echoey synths and swirling electric guitar solos transport listeners to summer 1985.
Imagine speeding along in a convertible with your first love toward Lake Michigan as Clouthier sings, “You were dancing in my head/Since the night down on the west side/And I picture you in bed/How the light would touch your body/And you wanna see the beach when there’s time before the sunset.” It’s the ideal track to put on a mixtape between Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” and Phil Collins’ “Sussudio.”
“The song itself had been in the repertoire for a few years actually. It took me a while to get the recorded sounds where I wanted them. I do all my recording in my home studio, and ‘August’ was the type of song that initially came together quickly, but took a while to find the finishing touches,” Clouthier said.
With an emerald Ibanez, Ania strums toward a new antidote for personal and societal toxicity.
That antidote appears as her latest melodic pop-rock single, “Poison,” which combines slow, vibrant electric guitar, delicate cymbal taps, rhythmic bass, steady drums and swirling synths into a soothing remedy with bassist-drummer Matt Ward.
“This song was about me letting go of a toxic relationship. Lyrically, I wanted to be vague and express how this relationship broke me. This relationship literally broke my ‘shit’ in a grunge way. I feel as if I lost my sense of self and who I am,” said Ania, a Los Angeles heavy metal singer-songwriter and guitar virtuoso.
Throughout “Poison,” Ania cathartically sings, “Complications come from meditation/Your privilege gets me down again/Dusky skies are filling up with poison/And we keep breaking our own shit/Air is filling up with poison, and you keep breaking my shit/Air is filling up with poison, and you keep breaking my shit.”
“I tried to create a dark pop song that’s similar to ‘The Hand That Feeds’ by Nine Inch Nails. I also wanted to incorporate some synth electronic modern textures that I have been hearing in St. Vincent’s music to make the song more current,” she said.
Ania will extend her personal undertones of “Poison” to growing societal struggles in a new video out June 26. Wrapped in vivid shades of neon pink and green, the “Poison” video transports Ania to Hollywood’s infamous Melrose Avenue where she laments society’s self-destructive tendencies.
Throughout the “Poison” video, Ania adorns a white long-sleeve T-shirt, pink pants and black combat boots while shredding her emerald Ibanez, smashing records on alley walls and battling an evil Trump-masked drummer. This contrasting mix of vivid and muted colors also symbolizes Ania’s lingering frustrations with the superficiality of life and image of perfectionism in Los Angeles.
“I wanted the ‘Poison’ video to expose the inauthenticity of the beautiful and vibrant image that many people associate with Los Angeles. Hollywood glamour is part of the city, but it’s got an angsty side, too,” said Ania, who teamed up with filmmakers Will Milvid and Alex Ioanoviciu for the video.
“We all have an impact on the world around us. I want people to wake up and think critically for themselves and understand that we can all fight for change if we aren’t absorbed in our own image. Sometimes we’re blinded by it, but if we look up from our phones, we can fight for change and a better future.”