It’s been nearly eight years since I started The Stratton Setlist, and I’ve heard a barrage of wonderful new music from independent artists during that time. While I’ve written hundreds of features on different artists across multiple genres, I wanted to find a way to showcase more people through a new monthly series called “The Soundcheck.”
And welcome to “The Soundcheck.” Each month, I’ll compile a roundup of newly released singles, EPs and albums from local artists inside (and outside) Michigan. I’m proud to share the inaugural edition, which features electropop from Soundslikeotto and indie-folk from Ohly and Tom Alter. Plus, this edition celebrates my favorite season of spring.
Sit back, breathe in the spring air and enjoy these refreshing sounds.
Soundslikeotto, “So High”
Soundslikeotto delivers an infectious helping of ‘80s electropop on their latest single, “So High.” The Detroit indie-pop sextet of Chesney Walters (vocals), Jonny Walker (guitar), Nate Dornfried (keys), Ryan Freitas (bass), Connor Maggio (guitar) and Austin Howard (drums) dropped their addictive new single in March after releasing their debut EP Still Picture You last summer. (It’s especially effervescent on cassette.)
On “So High,” the band fuses hyperactive synth, electric guitar, bass and drums with a bold storyline about being in an intoxicating relationship. Walters sings, “No control / You tighten your chemical hold / So hot and so cold / And I can’t get enough, get enough, get enough.”
Honestly, I can’t get enough of this single and its instant adrenaline rush each time I play it. Soundslikeotto’s confessional single belongs on a clear Memorex mixtape alongside Phil Collins’ “Sussudio” and “Don’t Lose My Number.” Dust off that boombox, insert mixtape and let the addiction begin!
Detroit’s Christian Ohly releases beautiful indie-folk songs filled with vivid tales of contemplation and growth. His latest Ohly single “Knuckles” tugs at the heartstrings with early scenes from a budding relationship in spring. Alongside serene piano and acoustic guitar, he sings, “You were working at the metro park / And you got me in after dark / And we laid in the grass / And watched the lighting pass by.”
This thoughtful ballad also references the quirks the narrator discovers about “Annie” during the relationship’s honeymoon phase: “crack your knuckles,” “tug at your shirt” and “never wash your denim.” These are the real signs of true love and a solid relationship that’s meant to last. Trust me, I can vouch for that since Brian and I have been together for 29 years.
Sonically, “Knuckles” features a strong cast of collaborators, including producer John Katona, co-producer Tom Mihalis, Jackamo guitarist Jimmy Showers, bassist Ian Lukas, drummer Ryan McMahon, pianist Andrew Solway (aka Soloveichik) and vocalist Pia Roa. A springtime love anthem, this track is best heard after dark while strolling with your partner through a local metro park.
Tom Alter, Last Season in the Lesser Middle
Fraser’s Tom Alter intricately weaves jazz, pop, folk and Latin influences into his signature indie-folk sound. I can always tell that he’s deliberate about how those sounds coalesce on each track in his growing catalog of EPs and albums. That attention to detail strongly shines on Alter’s latest EP Last Season in the Lesser Middle, which reflects the sadness, remembrance and hope resulting from the loss of his father.
Alter chronicles that personal journey through four emotional tracks that provide relief and renewal. The proud opener “Setting Sail” honors his father’s service in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. Alongside grateful guitar, bass, clarinet and percussion, Alter sings, “Cut loose the ropes, anchors aweigh, set a new course / So turn your back to this old shore / You’re bound for glory / Time to head for home.”
After wishing his late father well, Alter mourns the change of seasons on “First Days of Winter” as somber acoustic guitar and pensive electric guitar and percussion surround him. For some reason, it seems harder to lose a loved one as the weather gets colder and the days grow shorter. Most of the losses in my life usually hit right before the holidays (except for my mother and grandmother who passed away in the summer).
Once winter takes hold, Alter focuses on the future and the eventual promise of spring on “Release.” Hopeful acoustic guitar, bass and percussion allow Alter to slowly exhale the pain and loss of the past. He sings, “These are just days, sliding down a slope / These are the days we can rely on hope / Before our eyes, believing leads to seeing / There will be release for prisoners of time.”
While relishing a newfound sense of freedom, Alter closes Last Season in the Lesser Middle with a loving tribute to lost loved ones on “Autumn.” Appreciative acoustic guitar and percussion comfort Alter as he sings, “Autumn, in fading hint of light / The shadows thin and bring a glimpse / To corners of my eyes / And there you are / And there you are.”
This EP provides me with closure about the losses I’ve experienced over the past three years. I hope it provides you with some hope and positivity, especially with the arrival of spring and the start of a new chapter.