Wednesday, October 9, 7 p.m.
The Rust Belt, 533 12th Avenue, East Moline IL
Indie folk-rock band Michigander from lovely Michigan (where else?) plays East Moline venue the Rust Belt on October 9.
The word “Michigander,” despite looking truly bizarre on paper, signifies a resident of the great state of Michigan. The fact that local/geographical identity is built so heavily into the nomenclature of this project of singer/songwriter Jason Singer is no coincidence. His music hones in on one version of what could be described as “acute suburban identity,” as his songs regularly deal with such subjects as ennui, existential confusion, and the concept of “home.” In practice, the songs that he writes come off like genial and melodic portraits of time and space, populated with uneasy narrators and questions about one’s place in the physical landscape as much as the artistic landscape.
“Misery,” one of the signature tracks that Singer penned for the project, conflicts with its weighty title by offering up a breezy, major key pop-rock jam that actually skews closer toward optimism than despair. The track staggers over steadily strummed verses that seem like appetizers for the bright chorus, which allows his able voice to climb up through the scale into a pleasant hook abetted by glowing guitar leads and wordless vocal coos. From a lyrical standpoint, Singer focuses on an unnamed foil, claiming that “she’s got my knees shaking / she’s got my heart breaking in two.” Once again, the song benefits from a disconnect between what could seem like depressive lyrics and an iridescent delivery, as Singer’s harmonies make it clear that this brand of heartbreak doesn’t necessarily demand the titular “Misery” as much as a clear-eyed assessment of his feelings from a more objective standpoint. The trick of couching moody themes in happy packaging is as old as songwriting itself, but Singer seems to take to this juxtaposition with aplomb, letting us know that no degree of interpersonal distress can throw a wet blanket over the joy contained within his composition.
Michigander’s full session on Audiotree, released in mid-2017, captures its chemistry as a live band. Although Singer remains rooted at the center of his project as the lead singer and co-lead guitarist, his band has no trouble ushering his tracks into sweetly layered arrangements that swell with the addition of live trumpet performance, occasional synth flourishes, and a rock-solid rhythm section. It’s a treat to see Singer belt out these songs in a live setting in the context of the live unit. His band veers between bursts of what could be called “post-punk” – all angular riffs and chugging bass/drum breakdowns, not far from the output of bands such as Television and their more modern descendants like Interpol or Bloc Party – and a more conventional approach to the rock song that sticks to standard progressions and easy, loping rhythms. To hear relatively adventurous rock arrangements behind songs that could stand alone as guitar/vocal numbers demonstrates the extent to which the Michigander project rises above solitary balladry to enter the realm of hard-tack live shredding.
Almost as a matter of course, any articles or interviews with Michigander hone in on geographical origins, as journalists often seek to pinpoint the exact origins of the band’s members in the mitten of Michigan. (Hold up your right hand, not your left.) The truth is that its music carries a kind of universality that extends beyond the Midwest region to encompass any spot in which someone might feel fundamentally out of place, heartbroken, or – alternately – exactly in the place he or she belongs. The sense of belonging (or not belonging) permeates the band's tracks to the point that they evoke a kind of optimistic uncertainty about our roles as sacks of human flesh walking through whatever location we choose to call home.
Michigander plays The Rust Belt on October 9 with an opening set by Noel Wells, admission to the 7 p.m. concert is $12-17, and more information on the evening is available by visiting TheRustBeltQC.com.