Tag Archives: Oak Park

Review: Michigan Rex’s “Cities to Burn” EP

29 Mar

Michigan Rex's EP "Cities to Burn"

It is impossible to find two nicer, cooler, down-to-earth and totally pleasant bandmates in all of Boston than Natalie Huizenga and Dylan Hanwright, freshmen at Berklee School of Music in Boston and co-founders of Michigan Rex, a band that blends elements of electronica, indie rock, and pop into one unique sound. In their EP “Cities to Burn,” released in late 2010, Michigan Rex assemble five original songs, as well as two unexpected covers, into one collection that highlights their knack for creating killer songs with only a computer and a microphone. Hanwright, a native of the indie and hardcore rock haven of the Seattle-area, and Huizenga, a veteran of the rich musical scene of Oak Park, IL, deftly synthesize their respective knowledge, talents, and experience into the unified feel of their EP.

The music on “Cities to Burn” is an authoritative declaration of the band’s creative direction, and features an even higher level of talent than that usually expected from students at Berklee College of Music. Although the musical collaboration between Hanwright and Huizenga originated from email exchanges between the members, with Hanwright sending Huizenga backing tracks and Huizenga emailing her vocals back to Hanwright, the two were able to bring the disparate pieces of their music together into cohesive and irresistible songs. Their move to Boston together has only further solidified their musical and personal unity, which hopefully shall continue to grow with future releases.

Perhaps the best example of Michigan Rex’s talent for using their diverse array of talents to create brilliant musical strokes is displayed in their electronic take on Alexi Murdoch’s “All of My Days.” Hanwright creates a rich musical atmosphere that relies on an entire arsenal of synth noises, while Huizenga’s voice dreamily weaves in and out through the piece with the perfect amount of reverb, and the mood of their cover rises and falls in understated swells. Michigan Rex’s ability to seamlessly transform Murdoch’s acoustic track into an electronica version that feels just as natural as the original is representative of the rest of their EP, in which Hanwright and Huizenga blend aspects of electronic and indie musical stylings together until they coalesce into a collection of 7 strikingly splendid songs.

What makes the EP so great is that although Hanwright and Huizenga’s influences are apparent, it is almost impossible to describe who exactly the finished product sounds like. Traditional rock instrumentation fits in perfectly alongside atmospheric electro grooves, all of which augment Huizenga’s powerful vocals. From the meandering lines of “Cities” to the driving beats of “Another Ocean,” Michigan Rex supplies 25.9 minutes of music that thoroughly blurs the line between electronic music and traditional veins of alternative rock.

Now based in Boston, and featuring a full band line-up with additional musicians Drew Krasner, Dalton Harts, and Nick Koechel, Michigan Rex has continued to expand its musical horizon since releasing “Cities to Burn.” Hopefully they continue to grow as a band with more gigs and recordings, but it is clear that the “Cities to Burn” EP lays an incredibly solid foundation for the future of the band.

OVERALL RATING: Mike’s Pastries; Kevin Spacey.

Michigan Rex’s EP “Cities to Burn” is available for download HERE!

Review: The Welcome’s Debut EP “The Welcome”

28 Feb

Harding, Miller, Stoner, and Baetz of The Welcome

If your interests include smoking jackets, time travel, french cinema, kittens, fire-side chats, or ornithology, then the debut EP “The Welcome,” from Chicago-based Indie Rock band The Welcome, is just the 12.4 minutes-worth of music you need to hear. The Welcome, who claim to be influenced by bands as diverse as Death Cab for Cutie, The Weakerthans, Weezer, and The Hold Steady, released their introductory EP in late December of 2010 before launching a string of gigs at such respected Chicago venues like Schubas and the Cubby Bear.

Fronted by singer, songwriter, and guitarist Gehring Miller, along with the musical stylings of Eric Baetz (guitar), Evan Stoner (bass/vocals), and Casey Harding (drums), The Welcome’s EP features all four members concisely working together to bring life to Miller’s distinct style of songwriting. Miller, a poet, jazz musician, and audio engineer, also happens to hail from the same Oak Park musical scene that spawned such critically acclaimed bands as The Reverend Funk Connection, Lissin’, Bull Run, Wailin’, Blue Line, and The Idiosyncracies. Miller has been on a musical rampage since graduating from Columbia College, devoting himself to releasing a new EP each month, and his effort with the newly minted band The Welcome displays some of his finest work.

The Welcome’s EP opens with “Robin Robinson,” arguably the strongest track of the three, not to mention one of the more impressive displays of alliteration in song titles. Beginning with a steady bass that’s joined in simple harmony by understated guitar, every piece of the song fits in place, as Miller’s vocals lay on top of a grove established by Harding’s tight drumming. Transitioning with ease between verses and choruses featuring unified staccato build-ups that break into distortion, The Welcome are able to develop the alienated nature of Robin Robinson into a character suffering from an affliction reminiscent of Johnny Cash’s “Boy Named Sue.” What is most impressive about the EP’s opening song is the execution of the post-bridge crescendo, which features a repetitive chorus of increasing dynamic and melodic intensity that culminates in a final defiant chorus.

Next comes “My Body Will Remember You,” which is just as overt as the title suggests. With Miller singing over descending bass and guitar lines, the track showcases The Welcome’s ability to create multiple layers of sonic texture through contrasting guitar timbres. Harding keeps a relaxed groove, maintaining the song’s languid and nonchalant feel. The reserved nature of the song, which never fully climaxes (odd, perhaps, considering the subject matter), occasionally pushes its tranquil nature too far and risks losing the listener’s attention, but fortunately varies things up enough at the end to keep everything fresh. If The Welcome were making a full length album, this track might feel like a drag, but luckily in a brief EP like this one, its aesthetic artistry serves to further encapsulate most of the overwhelmingly positive traits of the band.

The Welcome conclude their debut EP with “How Knows the Night,” an excellent end to a fantastic display of their talents. With a solid riff as a strong base, the band builds up to a chorus that pits Miller’s voice against distorted guitars, eventually coalescing into a brilliant solo that fits perfectly within the feel of the song. The guitars of Miller and Baetz work together well throughout the EP, but the interplay between the two is especially potent on the final track.

In a mere three songs, The Welcome establish themselves as a legitimate force in Chicago’s Indie Rock scene with an EP that displays their unique talents and identity. The best way to grow as a band is to produce quality music and then tour the hell out of those songs. The Welcome has done exactly that so far, and hopefully will continue to do so. I look forward to a full-length effort from the band in the near future that showcases The Welcome’s considerable musicianship, lyricism, and wit.

OVERALL RATING: Like eating donuts. From The Depot.

Download the album HERE, for FREE!

Seriously, these donuts are like the food approximation of Brooklyn Decker, circa 2007