Thursday, May 11, 2006

From Michigan?

If I wear the same clothes
I wore today tomorrow
Would I fool you to think
You were standing still?

Home -- Breathe Owl Breathe

When I first heard this song, I assumed the artists would be from some heavily-wooded part of North America. I envisioned log cabins and high-towering coniferous trees. I didn't envision Ann Arbor, Michigan. I assumed the only music coming out of that town would be what is usually consumed by University of Michigan students: frat-rock. The unlistenable likes of Dave Matthews Band and Jack Johnson.

But Breathe Owl Breathe? From Michigan?

What a pleasant surprise this duo has turned out to be. Creating gorgeous and mysterious music made up primarily of acoustic guitar, banjo and cello, Micah Middaugh and Andrea Moreno-Beals have landed on an organic and dusty sound that truly gives a glimpse of a growing trend in the music of West- and mid-Michigan. Their recordings, though definitely DIY home-studio quality, aren't as noisy as Mi and L'au or Iron & Wine. In fact, the vocal quality is suprisingly clear and crisp. They include a couple instrumentals on their most recent effort, Climb In, (
CD Baby) and have more earthy and less agenda-driven subject manner than a lot of their genre's counterparts. The instrumentation, though simply played, isn't safe. They take sonic risks for such natural-sounding recordings. There are tough-to-distinguish time signatures and vacillations between melodic tension and release.

Middaugh's baritone vocals remind me of that of Crooked Fingers and Smog. Moreno-Beals typically adds an octave-higher unison part, but occasionally inserts a simple and appropriate harmony vocal. The song "Cave" recalls Michigan's weather: It takes a long time to get to the sunny part and then it doesn't last nearly long enough! There's a pretty nylon string picking pattern that sits atop a disonant cello scratching for the first half before resolving and joining together. "Embers" demonstrates a freedom to allow a song to be only as long as it needs to be. It's not necessary to follow a V-C-V2-C-B-C-C form with these songs. It also introduces a wood block percussive sound and a fantastic accordion texture.

Just to accent how "non-mainstream" this duo is: I checked their
website today to find the "domain name expired on 05/04/06 and is pending renewal or deletion." Thank goodness for MySpace.

And thank goodness for music like this coming from my home state of two years now.

Cave - Breathe Owl Breathe

Embers - Breathe Owl Breathe

Cold Blooded Old Times - Smog

The Smog song is featured on the High Fidelity Soundtrack (
US, UK).


Blogger topher1kenobe said...

In the 80's, Ann Arbor was Michigan's de facto hub of New Age Stuff. We used to drive down there to get our co-op food, and my mom would get me rainbow sun catchers from the New Age stores.

That kind of devolved into anything Alternative, and by that I don't mean skater punks in black. That made for a lot of good music. Oddly, it was CMU radio that played most of it.

So it doesn't surprise me in the slightest that interesting music would come out of Ann Arbor.

11:48 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Not to pick on you Troy, but I kind of have to agree. American college towns have been responsible for a lot of great music over the past 25 years, thanks in big part to college radio. So I'd almost expect a lot of good bands coming out of Ann Arbor--one of the better big college towns.

12:41 PM  
Blogger -tr0y- said...

i'll accept that topher and amy--maybe it would have been more accurate for me to be surprised by Michigan in general (i mean besides the music savior Sufjan of course...)

2:11 PM  
Anonymous wendy said...

I live in Ann Arbor...though I prefer bands from Detroit, there are more than a few interesting bands here in town...Saturday Looks Good to Me, Great Lakes Myth Society, Nomo, and now this band (which I have never heard of). Also AMG is located in Ann Arbor.

9:15 PM  

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