Arun Bali says technology finally caught up. Shit, back when the Berklee College of Music prodigy first met bandmate Justin Bailey at a show at the Pirate House, Ann Arbor's underground punk rock squatter music venue, "file sharing" meant someone slipping a mix tape into the back pocket of your jeans. These days, Bali not only rocks a long-distance songwriting relationship (thank you, World Wide Web, digital recorders and Pro Tools) with Bailey, who lives in Richmond, Va., he's also confident enough in their potential together that he considers their band, Eons, his main musical mission.
"I'm content to fly out on a Friday and return on a Monday," Bali says of his treks to the East Coast. "Over the course of a Saturday, we can write, arrange and record a song." To Bali, who has played in a handful of local acts (Judah Johnson, Loretta and the Larkspurs, etc.) over the past few years, the choice was easy. With Bailey and bandmates Ashley Bruce and Mark Miller, the music the group creates is some of the best Bali's ever been a part of. And the times are right their mix of throwback indie rock, shoegaze texture and hints of melody from the '90s Brit pop scene fits nicely into a world where downloading lobbed a bomb at the traditional music industry, and a band is only as good as its latest single, wherever it draws from musically. Their Blowout performance is only Eons' sixth show ever. So, why'd we book them on one of the most impressive bills at the event's venue? You'll see. Eve Doster
Misty Lyn and the Big Beautiful
The rap on folk music in some circles: It's been done. But come on, that's bullshit. There's still weight in some old soul's musings on the human condition, with assists from mahogany, wire, tuning pegs and a comfortably-worn dining room chair, the latter usually reborn as outdoor furniture; Elliot Smith wouldn't still mean so much to so many people if he didn't have something meaningful to say. And Smith (especially his darker side) is an influence on Ann Arbor-based singer-songwriter Misty Lyn, as is the studied grace of Gillian Welch. "Lyrics are very important to me," Lyn says. "I don't give a shit how hot your guitar licks are; if you're rhyming 'rain' with 'pain' ..." she trails off, but the implication's clear. She understands the directives at folk music's heart: Keep things simple and sing about what you know, but give it your stamp. "What I'm Not" begins with a few brushed chords and the question that begins most beautiful relationships and a few of the bad ones ("What's your name?"), while her high notes on "Mpls II" sound as lonely as getting caught in a snowstorm but comfy at the same time, like maybe Lyn's only imagining the chill as she sits in front of a toasty fireplace. Folk music's been done a lot. But when it's done right, it still sings. Johnny Loftus
Metasyons and Asylum 7
That's meta, plus science. There's a YouTube file floating around; it features Detroit emcee Metasyons onstage at Fifth Avenue performing his jam "Stick Up." There's no wild-limbed gesticulation. Meta's stage moves are confined to his wrists and expressive hands. His towel never even falls from where it's draped around his head. The beat is spare too it's really just an electronic metronome for him to lay a set of verses over, and lay them over he does. "Stick Up" is the story of taking two steps forward, only to have life knock you back 17, and how a man at his wit's end can still question that position and fight for traction without resorting to the empty response of violence. Inspiring? Maybe. But mostly it's just reality.
Metasyons and fellow emcee Asylum 7 have been collaborating for about five years now; they'll perform together at Blowout, with support from DJ Sleepy Biggs. "We're fortunate to have a DJ," Meta says. "A lot of artists perform to recorded tracks of their songs, but to me it takes away from the credibility of the performance when an emcee can't bring it live, without vocals over a beat as backup. Cheap!"
He's been influenced by everyone from the Temptations and 311 to Kool G Rap and Elzhi from Slum Village.
"I support the locals too," he says. "Subterraneous Crew, Athletic Mic League and, of course, Dilla. But I also love MF Doom, Ghostface, Sean Price, Non Phixion. These artists inspire me to continue making music. 'Cause without that, maybe I would have fallen into the grips of the city."
In his raps, Metasyons snares the grind of the everyday in rhythmic couplets that blend fantasy, daydreams, cultural touchstones and one of hip-hop's greatest commodities, bravado. "So every verse you spit," he raps on "3 Cheers" (which checks Dilla with its production), "I'll spit it back to ya." That's a method for dropping science on emcees. But it also sounds like a means of fighting back at the hard times. Johnny Loftus
Tone & Niche
There's a truism among the devoted, those who spend a good portion of their scratch and large chunks of spare time haunting hole-in-the-wall music venues. And it's that the city of Detroit has a very real scene behind the superficial "scene." In it, conversation is secondary. People listen. Don't bother looking for the emotionally genuflecting 21-year-old who read about the joint or band in her greasy copy of Mojo. She can't even find this other scene, and even if she did, she wouldn't understand a collective of musically inclined people as unabashed about their love for John Lennon as they are about having played in high school marching bands. And thick inside this familial environment is a group called Tone & Niche. They are Anthony Retka on guitar and Nicole Varga on (yes!) violin and though they're adept enough to play just about anything they are rock 'n' roll singer-songwriters.
"Music's the only thing we know," Niche says. "He'll call me on his lunch hour and sing new melodies into my voice mail so I can write them down before he forgets." Tone's songwriting has a so-cool-I'm-not-cool Harry Nilsson quality to it, and, with the accompaniment of Niche's gorgeous violin, the duo gives off an aura similar to 1980s college radio. (Think R.E.M., Marshall Crenshaw). When overproduced, overthought and image-driven can feel like the name of the game, the music of Tone & Niche is built for listening. And an appreciation for great violin licks, of course. Eve Doster
Can Taylor hold the Hadituptoheres? The trio's crazed revivalist take on 1977 punk channeled, of course, through the better parts of what's happened to genre in the ensuing years, as well as the messy bile of vintage hardcore makes every hurtling guitar riff, every strained-throat lyric, every cymbal-shattering fill, feel, well, new. And in our retread 21st century culture, that's just about fucking impossible. How did they do it? It's not like a shouty power trio is a new idea. But in instant anthems such as "On a Tryst," "This Gun is Fun," and "In the Beginning" (all on their essential 2006 Hell City debut Are Bringing the Hammer Down), the Hadits manage to make anger and not givin'-a-fuck sound like the opposite: rough-edged joy, and the sense that not giving a fuck about anything might make us all start caring about something. Johnny Loftus