Two years ago, TJ Zindle discovered an unexpected clarity.
With a quiet mind and a fresh creative spark, the Ann Arbor indie-rock artist and guitarist immersed himself in a pandemic-induced songwriting retreat.
“The first couple of months during the shutdown everything felt clear. All the noise was gone, and I was just writing a ton. A lot of it was about mental health stuff and trying to figure that out … because all of sudden, I had time to think,” said Zindle, who’s also a vocalist-guitarist with Erin Zindle & The Ragbirds.
“The hum of life was gone for a bit, and I wrote about 45-50 songs for this record. I also have another record coming out later this year with some friends from another band.”
Those sessions produced Now Let Go, Zindle’s first new album since 2017’s Hold On with All Your Might. Filled with nine insightful tracks, it features an emotive narrative chronicling personal and societal reflections on life, growth and change.
“I’m at the point where it’s not so difficult to be like, ‘Yeah, I’m a real fucking musician,’ which is something that I had never felt like all my life. We all fight that imposter syndrome … we’re all there, every single human,” he said.
“But to be like, ‘I made a pretty damn good record on my own,’ and I got a lot of stuff out … I honestly know I did my best, and it was just me. There was just a lot of power in that.”
When it comes to a passionate relationship, Adam Masterson urges people to follow their instincts.
The New York City roots-rock singer-songwriter quickly identifies the romantic fear and uncertainty others face on his latest spiritual single, “Wild Wolves.”
“A passionate relationship can be a terrifying place because you’re at the mercy of someone else. It can be filled with uncertainties,” Masterson said.
“Wolves feel like a good image because they seem both above those things as creatures that know how to survive with the uncertainties of the wild … but at the same time, they can be kindred spirits that know the frailties and vulnerabilities of fear.”
Masterson freely explores those primal “Wild Wolves” emotions as ascending piano, aerial synths, spirited electric guitar, playful bass and speedy drums sprint across the open countryside.
He sings, “There’s something out there coming/And it’s after you and me/I’m so scared of losing/You among these trees.”
“Maybe for me, the song isn’t about salvation in a relationship, but more about finding a good omen in the uncertainty and danger that surrounds us … (and) trusting in (your) animal instinct to survive and connecting with your spirit animal,” Masterson said. “(By) being at ease with the wild wolves that will always be part of your nature, they’re leading you to knowledge of yourself.”
For Becky Crosby, quarantine life provides the ultimate escape from reality.
The Purchase, New York pop-rock singer-songwriter openly shares her personal struggles with pandemic lockdown and emotional isolation on her latest jazz-funk ballad, “Can We Pretend?”
“I wrote it in quarantine right after we got evacuated from school … when I think everyone was feeling especially lonely and confused at what was going on in the world,” said Crosby, who’s a jazz senior at State University of New York (SUNY) in Purchase. “I had a crush on a friend of mine at the time, and I think the feelings about quarantine just heightened everything about it.”
A lush “Can We Pretend?” ensemble of thumping drums, tingly cymbals, pensive bass, gleaming electric guitar, delicate piano, melancholic trumpet and earnest baritone sax echo Crosby’s growing frustration and forlornness.
She thoughtfully sings, “How did this happen to me?/I was oh so happy living life lonely/But when you come near/I smile ear to ear/Cause you made me different/Than the girl who used to share my mirror.”
“I wrote ‘Can We Pretend?’ as a way to not only work out my feelings, but to get out some of the anger that I had about my life changing so much overnight,” Crosby said. “I do think that it’s always a good idea to go with your gut. So if your gut says to tell them you like them, then do it. Life is short!”
Crosby brought “Can We Pretend?” to life with several collaborators, including Simon Ribas (drums), Sameer Shankar (bass), Ethan Johnson (guitar), Harry Graser (piano), Noah Mattison (trumpet) and Lee Altsher-Wood (baritone sax).
“This song automatically just had a funky feel to it. Being a jazz major, I am surrounded by horn players, and I was so happy to be able to feature them on this track,” she said. “Sameer Shankar shaped this horn arrangement, and Lee Altsher-Wood and Noah Mattison did a great job bringing it to life.”
As cultural anthropologists, The Mommyheads thoughtfully document the dawning of a new civilization.
The New York City indie pop quartet of Adam Elk (vocals, analog synths, guitar), Michael Holt (electric piano, vocals, synths), Dan Fisherman (drums, vocals) and Jason McNair (bass, recitation) poetically observes, records and shares the everyday habits of people living in newfound COVID-19 solitude.
Together, they produce and present a compelling 10-track report of recent lockdown life known as the Age of Isolation, which runs rampant with TV dinners, ceiling spots, drippy faucets, overgrown facial hair and extended window gazes.
As a follow-up to last year’s New Kings of Pop, The Mommyheads’ cerebral, contemplative 13th album beautifully delves into the psychological, political and social complexities of residing in suspended animation during quarantine. The Age of Isolation also gives new meaning to existential dread during a prolonged era of pandemic-induced uncertainty.
“I always think of records as snapshots or documents of certain time periods. That’s the main reason I like working through the writing and recording process extremely fast. It keeps you in the moment, especially in terms of the feeling and subject matter,” Elk said.
“The LP almost seems like a concept album, but that’s just because it never has the liberty of veering from its theme. I really hope it’s just a time piece and not the new normal.”
The Detroit indie folk singer-songwriter and Frontier Ruckus frontman eloquently drifts through deep childhood recollections, gritty suburban landmarks and dichotomous neighborhood adventures on his well-crafted second solo album.
“This has been a lifelong obsession, especially with the suburban world. It’s inspired by the fact that the suburban experience is not monolithic. It’s all these mingling beautiful dualities and contradictions of the human experience that live in this space,” said Milia, who grew up in Keego Harbor.
“I’m juxtaposing Pontiac and Bloomfield Hills because those places are contiguous, and they couldn’t be more different. That’s a hard thing for people that don’t live in this area to understand. My endless personal quest is to give as much vivid description and detail of these contradictions that I’ve experienced.”
Throughout Keego Harbor, Milia intricately constructs snapshots of mundane Michigan experiences – junk mail, rotten mulch and phone chargers – and static places – party stores, drive-thru lanes and nail salons – across 10 introspective tracks to capture a beautiful legacy of life unchanged.
“I think this record is a bit more about generational inheritance. My parents met in Keego Harbor at a place called the Back Seat Saloon that’s no longer there, and the first placed they lived together was in a little loft above a house. The age I am now is when they were doing all that. It’s a bit of time travel while seeing myself as my parents and all the things that entails,” he said.
While much of Keego Harbor remains in the rear-view mirror of the mind’s eye, another portion welcomes the uncertain future with outstretched arms. It’s a matter of looking toward the past to better understand who you’ve become and where you’re headed, whether that’s in a city or a suburb.
“I’m also thinking on another level about my experience in the music industry. It’s such a weird commerce to toil in, and my life since 2006 has been writing these songs and making these records with my friends and putting them out into the world and seeing where they take me,” Milia said.
“I think that a major trope of this record is the recalibration of one’s dreams and expectations. And knowing that immense beauty and surprise can be hiding there. Once you recalibrate what you think you wanted or were working toward, you might just find something even more rewarding.”
The Brooklyn indie rock singer-songwriter revisits the untimely demise of a promising romantic relationship on his latest cinematic, introspective single, “Momentary Thrill,” now available via all streaming platforms.
“I was in a relationship where we jumped in really quickly, and I basically decided to trust my emotions to guide me through this relationship. Normally, I’m very held back, and maybe I’m typically more of the blocked one you could say emotionally, but at the time I felt very open, like I was diving in,” Silver said.
“It seemed like on the receiving end there were more walls that I was struggling to break through, and eventually when it ended, I just wanted to write a song to recap what had just happened.”
Silver magically tears down those “Momentary Thrill” walls as hypnotic, dreamy electric guitars, delicate cymbal taps, intermittent bass drum kicks, smooth bass and lo-fi, poignant vocals transport listeners to a pivotal break-up scene in a critically-acclaimed romantic dramedy.
He emotionally sings, “Well you’re running for the hills/But you put on quite a show of it/And everybody knows it/You chose it/Well the summer ended early/For the lover losing track of time/Without a reason why.”
“The lyrics are very straightforward; they’re not spiteful, hateful or disrespectful. It’s just very much a recounting of this happened, this happened, that happened. Typically, as an artist and as a person, I like to get the facts of the matter of things,” said Silver, who wrote “Momentary Thrill” last year.
Silver worked with Toledo, the Boston beach goth duo of Dan Alvarez and Jordan Dunn-Pilz, to record, arrange and produce the track in late 2019 as a follow-up to the wistful, yacht rock-esque love anthem, “After a Response Like That.”
“I’ll just come to them with a basic melody, lyric and chord, and then Dan will go, ‘Oh, so like this?’ He’ll play exactly what I was hearing and better. He brings arrangements to the table, where he’ll ask, ‘Do you want it to sound more like this or more like that?’” Silver said.
“He does it all; he does the drums, the bass and the guitar. He really forms all the music with what I brought to him, and sometimes he’ll workshop certain lyrics and verses. They’re definitely a big part of the process and the development of the songwriting.”
In June, Silver released a companion lyric video for “Momentary Thrill” featuring a series of animated, meaningful Polaroids depicting personal experiences and encounters in a simple beige scrapbook. Directed by Shannen Bamford, the video nicely complements the romantic, thoughtful aesthetic of Silver’s latest track.
LEVELS spiritually rises above standard musical conventions.
The international super group magically entwines assorted genres – R&B, hip-hop, funk, jazz, pop, prog rock, Latin and Afrobeat – changing tempos and complex time signatures into an expansive sound that transcends space and time on their 2019 self-titled, full-length debut.
“These cats are all masters of their craft. The name LEVELS was fitting for us because we all come from different backgrounds culturally and musically and disciplines giving our unit so much dynamism. We’re always adding new levels to the tunes and each other. It’s great to be multinational and international since there’s so much flavor and opportunity to learn and push envelopes musically,” said Keith “WildChild” Middleton, LEVELS co-lead vocalist and co-founder.
Middleton pushes global, multi-genre musical envelopes with American-Italian bandmates Jacopo “Snow” Mazza (piano), Luca “Mack” Marcias (guitar) and Aaron Marcellus (vocals) on their intergalactic, poetic 16-track concept album, which beautifully follows the time-traveling journey of Adam searching for Eve after being exiled from paradise.
“The entire album is woven this way and becomes their journey. We have so many styles it’s only right that they are all represented to tell this story our way. Everyone can identify with having a relationship of some sort. I just put a cosmic, spiritual twist on it to provoke thought and start a conversation – ‘We all share Eve’s and Adam’s atoms,’” said Middleton, who’s currently quarantined in Italy due to the country’s coronavirus pandemic.
‘A Place’ for ‘Unicorns’
Eve’s and Adam’s atoms form a complex musical chemistry on “A Place,” a slow, groovy R&B hip-hop declaration of eternal love (think Garden of Eden). LEVELS’ breathtaking track features tweeting birds and soothing waterfalls as vibrant acoustic guitar, crashing cymbals, bouncy bass and pounding electric drums surround the star-crossed lovers.
To celebrate the lovers, Marcellus hypnotically sings, “There’s no place that I would rather be/Than here with you my dear beside me/Made a space for you inside my heart/Don’t ever fade away my shining star.”
In return, Middleton seamlessly raps, “Yeah shining star if I may elaborate/I follow my heart when I navigate/Palpitations causes sensations at faster rates of rotations of butterflies proclaiming my candidate/No space or time Donny Hathaway/In this and our next lives you won’t have to wait/When we grappled that apple that ample sampled that unraveled the man with the time travel secret passageways/I’ll always find you baby.”
“‘A Place’ tells their tale, and you find out in the first verse, it’s Adam professing his love for Eve. In the second verse, they are doomed from the apple incident, but because of the bite revealing a secret, Adam vows to find his Eve in their next lives. In the third verse, Adam breaks down all of their incarnations till present time, also revealing that on this next go-round, he will spot her at one of his shows while he’s performing with his band LEVELS on stage,” Middleton said.
The Purchase, N.Y., pop-rock singer-songwriter intuitively chronicles her emotional journey through young adulthood on two poignant, propulsive singles – “I Know” and “Ghost” – which dropped last year.
With vivid, frenzied guitar strums, radiating bass and intermittent drums, “I Know” beautifully captures a young woman’s unrequited love for someone who’s already taken. Crosby’s fiery vocals highlight that escalating intensity, “I’ll be here when you see that girl is nothing but trouble/Trouble for you and me/I’ll keep my mouth shut/Keep my eyes closed/Pretend this doesn’t hurt, baby.”
While “I Know” resembles a sudden emotional outburst, the melodic track actually simmered beneath the surface before erupting and lingering in listeners’ minds last fall. Crosby teamed up with New York guitarist Ethan Johnson to co-produce “I Know” in 2019.
“What I tend to do is write a song, and then I’ll leave it on my computer for a bit until I have an idea of how I want to pursue it,” said Crosby, 19, who attends the State University of New York (SUNY) at Purchase. “Now that I’m in college, I have a lot of friends who do production, and Ethan helped me with the writing music-wise on ‘I Know.’”
“I Know” also appears on F**K THE CORONAVIRUS, a 15-track various artist project compiled by Joey Affatato, vocalist-guitarist for The Carousers, a New Jersey punk rock trio that also features Crosby’s older sister Cassidy.
Available on Bandcamp, all proceeds from the album will go directly to GlobalGiving, a large global crowdfunding community that connects nonprofits, donors and companies.
Before writing “I Know” and adding it to compilation album, Crosby penned the heartfelt, angst-filled “Ghost” as a young teen. The soaring track blends sorrowful acoustic strums with pounding percussion, vibrant electric guitars and rhythmic bass.
Again, Crosby beautifully sings about looking at life from the outside, “Part of me wishes we can turn back time/Back to when everything seemed just fine/And the leaves were falling down on the cold, soft grass/Everything was good then, but that’s why it’s the past.”
“I wrote that song when I was 14 or 15. I was going through changes that were happening in my life while starting high school,” said Crosby, who started writing songs at age 10. “When you’re that young, you’re going through changes friend-wise, and I think a lot of it was based on that.”
This month’s playlist includes 28 fresh tracks from a spectrum of talented artists, including ATMIG, Ma Baker, Hello Forever, Ally Evenson and others. Featured artists hail from Michigan, New York, California and New Jersey.
It’s part of our ongoing multi-genre journey to bring the best of our discoveries.
Two years ago, Jeff Scott experienced a musical epiphany in the Big Easy.
The Royal Oak singer-songwriter strolled through Jackson Square and retraced his steps from a previous New Orleans visit two decades earlier.
That trip down memory lane transported Scott back to performing with The Big Picture, a Detroit-based pop sextet. At the time, Scott and his bandmates opened for The Neville Brothers at the iconic New Orleans Jazz Fest.
“I was sensing at the time that I could never recapture the way that I felt when I was younger and in that position with that band. It started to rain exactly as it had the first time we showed up there, and I was standing in exactly the same place,” Scott said.
“I thought for the purposes of this album I was retreading and going back to where I had originally been musically and most successful professionally. That was a good way to start it. I’m attempting to reclaim something, maybe I’m not going to hit it, but the pursuit of it is deeply fulfilling and emotional.”
Scott shares his splendid journey of sonic self-discovery on “Nola,” the opening track of his third album, “Nola to New York,” which dropped in 2018.
Along with longtime bandmates Tony Jaworowski (piano, keys), Duane Allen Harlick (electric guitar, background vocals), Dave Hendrickson (electric and upright bass) and Dan McCann (drums, percussion), Scott will perform an eclectic mix of pop, folk, soul and jazz favorites from “Nola to New York” as well as his previous releases.
“I hope that they will be moved musically. That’s always my intent. I’ve always wanted to make beautiful music with a big ‘B.’ It can be up-tempo, it can be down-tempo, it can be a ballad, it can be a lot of different things,” Scott said. “That’s always the end goal for me. A lot of people come to the shows because they appreciate the lyrics, which I spend a lot of time on.”
Formerly known as “Friday Night Live” at the Farmington Civic Theater, the newly renamed “LIVE!” 2020 concert series also will feature Bones Maki and the Blue Water Boys with Rochelle Clark (Feb. 21), Olivia Millerschin with Adam Liebman (March 20) and the Nashtown Songwriters Round (April 23).