There are a lot of awful things about living in the Midwest. With winter right around the corner, all of us Michigan transplants are in a particularly dour mood about the state we call home at the moment. Sure, the weather here’s no Nashville and the seafood can’t hold a candle to Boston but we do have something other than that special water tower to call our “claim to fame” around these parts - We’ve also got an amazing music scene.
Sure, there’s us, Match by Match, a duo that’s kinda sounding like the freak love child of The Black Keys and The Civil Wars! (If you ask us! We’d link you to our new album but…. Y’know.) And there’s also miss Amber V., our behind the scenes glamor gal manager and merch babe, who’s been spending a lot more time than usual behind the computer lately demoing the scratch tracks for her Wizard of Oz inspired EP! She says it’s a pop record but someone on the internet compared it to a choir of creepy kids singing Aphex Twins in a field so listen at your own risk.
The cacophony of the musical Midwest keeps on keepin’ on once we skeedaddle past Match by Match Manor’s doors. Here’s a list of our top five fave Michigan acts (plus one bonus Chicago choogler) that always keep us movin’ and groovin’ ‘round these parts. It isn’t often that we leave the house to brave the arctic tundra but a show from any of these guys or dolls can usually do it -
Despite their age and despite the fact that one-third of the Ypsi trio lives in the D these days, Lighting Love still manages to be the strangest teens of all. There is something very adolescent about Lightning Love’s music, and yet simultaneously, something deeply sad and upsetting. Their music is the sound of a girl (Leah Deihl) grappling with adulthood, while wholly unequipped emotionally to process mature relationships. It’s something sweetly-damaged, yet not bitter, like pop music that’s fallen down the stairs drunk. Their new record, (the utterly superb) Blonde Album, is pure power-pop joy which, combined with the lack of sneering irony, keeps them in rotation constantly at MxM Manor.
Us and NK go way back. For one, he is ubiquitous. For months after our arrival in Michigan, it felt like we were seeing new posters for Nathan K shows every few days. The man plays shows with a borderline compulsive zeal but never more than him, a guitar, and an endlessly complicated stack of loop pedals piled in front of him. There’s a certain confidence and unshakeable faith in his approach that smooths out the rough edges of his voice and musical aesthetic. It’s uncanny, watching him turn an awkward melody into something beautiful and swelling. His new record is a moody, engrossing affair and showcases the depth of his songwriting.
There is only so much that we can continue to say about Matt Jones to inspire people to love him as much as we do. He is extremely tall. He plays guitar like his fingers are dancing on ecstasy. He sings like a beautiful, heavenly angel. He has an uncomfortable obsession with the Civil War. His songs are gut-wrenching, the emotional equivalent of waking up in your car after a bender and trying not to think of the terrible things you might have done the night before or why you’re covered in blood, or why the blood doesn’t seem to be your own. We’d call him a “singular talent,” except that he really belongs alongside dudes like Neil Young.
(Bonus Amber V. appearance at the end of that music video, ya’ll! And that was before she managed us! Small world!)
We’ve been smitten with these electropranksters since their Ordinare EP, but “Must Land Running” is the jam of the millennium. I doesn’t hurt they’ve added another one of our picks to their ranks (aforementioned Michi-bro Nathan K on guitar), but they seem to be having a good time mixing together the goofy, the poignant and the joyous with great, ridiculous results.
Now these scrappy boys are a new favorite of ours. Despite being a drop in an unending fountain of folk-influenced music that infects the midwest, The Hand in the Ocean does it with more flair, panache, and eccentricity than most. Three guys, one banjo, one guitar, and (increasingly with each passing show) great songwriting. They’re masters of the bitter-sweet: Tearing, uncontrolled snarls give way to soft, expert harmonies. Gray says they’re the heir to the theatrical, whiskey-soaked throne of Tom Waits. Amber says they’re like the murder baby of the demented carnival of Man Man and the possessed gospel stomp of early Timber Timbre. Either way, the entire Manor approves.
BONUS NON-MITTEN CHOOGLER!
Archie Powell and the Exports
(Oh, c’mon, you saw this one coming.)
Archie and the boys are HANDS DOWN one of the tightest, most well-oiled rock machines there is. Besides having unbelievably well-written tracks, unexpected philosophical lyrics, and a frontman who seems to be the reincarnation of This Year’s Model-era Elvis Costello (yes, we know Elvis Costello isn’t dead but it’s one of them “metaphors”), the band consistently delivers a raucous, tuneful live show every time that make their flaw-free album sound like it was recorded in-person. No joke! Sometimes, it actually is just nerdy what huge fans of AP&E we are here. Great Ideas In Action hasn’t left the turntable since we bought the vinyl when the band came to visit last month. We are all just pilgrims under the wheels of this power-pop juggernaut.