Study Hal: Week 40 – Calm Campus

Hal had to attend to some business in Ann Arbor, so he made the trip over the weekend! He hasn’t been on campus since last January. When he got there, he was shocked by how quiet it was… Maybe it’s the pandemic, maybe it’s because it was a cold Saturday morning in the midst finals season. Whatever the reason, the lack of activity took Hal by surprise.

It seems like a lot of little things have shifted over the past year. It makes sense that campus activity patterns would change like anything else. Still, Hal and I both look forward to the day when north campus, the diag, and the UMMA can be full of people again.

If this is your first time here, welcome! Hal is a graduating senior at U-M, and he’s been studying from home all year. We post updates on Tuesdays, but if you’re itching for more content, check out the backlog on the Study Hal tag!

Snapshots of Liberty Street

I recently started a minicourse on the rhetoric of Instagram–yup, you read that right. Our first assignments were to read Annie Dillard’s Seeing and take three photos of things we’ve never seen before. Dillard describes a special type of observation as “a letting go. When I see this way I sway transfixed and emptied.” She speaks of dark and light, blindness, nature, and expectations. I wanted to take her perspective as I sought out compositions around me. Although I have walked up and down Liberty Street downtown hundreds of times, I tried to “let go” and open up my mind to details I had never noticed nor appreciated–like the fairy door at the bottom of the Michigan Theater, or the intricacies of Graffiti Alley. Below are a couple of black and white images I snapped.

 

Pity Sex: One of Ann Arbor’s Finest (Former) Indie Bands

 

Pity Sex is a really great band name. It brings to mind the image of a grimy hardcore punk band known for their moshpits and blistering sound. That is not the kind of band Pity Sex was. Sure, their music is full of noise, but it’s far too sweet and melodic to be considered anything close to hardcore, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While they weren’t the most influential or captivating band in the scene, they put out some good stuff in the five short years they were active.

Pity Sex formed in 2011 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as part of a local emo revival birthed out of Sigma Phi, also known as Metal Frat. Their core lineup of Sean St. Charles on drums, Brandan Pierce on bass, and Britty Drake and Brennan Greaves sharing guitar and vocal duties remained consistent until Drake left the band in 2016. After a split cassette with fellow Ann Arbor band Brave Bird, the band released their 2013 debut EP, Dark World. In brief, it’s a short, solid set of songs that mainly dabble in indie rock and shoegaze, though it’s tinged with 90s alt rock and emo sensibilities, at their most cloying sounding a bit like Pinkerton-era Weezer. The band hadn’t really honed their sound at this early point in their career, which made them sound a bit one-dimensional, but there’s something to be said about how well they portray adolescent angst and desire in the dreamy walls of sound and dramatic vocal tradeoffs between Greaves and Drake. Their most well-known song, “Dogwalk”, also came from this EP, and it makes sense why it had such popularity. It’s got a loose, infectious vibe characterized by a slinky guitar line that transforms into brittle noise on the chorus, as well as a catchy vocal melody and an admirably amateur-ish performance. The high-energy instrumental bridge is a nice, unexpected moment, too.

In the same year, they released their debut album, Feast of Love on notable indie label Run For Cover Records. This record saw them operating in much of the same sounds as their EP, with some notable improvements. Opening song “Wind-Up” doesn’t reinvent the shoegaze wheel, but it’s some of the band’s best songwriting, most noticeable in the earworm hook and inventive guitar and bass interplay. “Sedated” and “Honey Pot” are similarly bold and infectious (and actually transition into each other quite nicely!), though the real highlight comes in the mid-album moment of respite “Hollow Body”. The band strips things back to just gentle guitar arpeggios and Drake’s dreamy vocals, and it’s such a refreshing change of pace. It’s simple, elegant, and absolutely mesmerizing. I would have loved to hear them explore this lighter sound more in their time as a band.

Following the release of their debut, Pity Sex toured with some pretty impressive acts in the scene, including Basement, Tigers Jaw, and Code Orange side project Adventures. Following this, they released what would be their final album before going on an indefinite hiatus, White Hot Moon. As with their other releases, it’s an enjoyable, bright record with several highlights (the title track is especially great in its heaviness), but suffers from much of the same problems as well. They had certainly mastered the lo-fi, hazy shoegaze/dream pop sound reminiscent of classic acts like My Bloody Valentine, but throughout their career, they failed to innovate and move past their influences into their own distinct sound. It’s a shame their career was so short-lived; I think it would have been interesting to see how they may have evolved with future releases, especially as they became more established musicians, though I admire their DIY, fledgling spirit. Nonetheless, if you’re looking for music by some Ann Arbor natives, or just some solid music to throw on in the background at a party (or makeout session, if you’re feeling romantic), Pity Sex is a great choice. Let’s hope they reunite for some shows when those are a thing again.

 

Sidenote: I also think all their album artwork is beautiful!

 

Pity Sex Dark World.png

 

 

Dark World EP  (2013)

Songs to check out: “When You’re Around”, “Dogwalk”

 

 

 

 

 

Feast of Love  (2013)

Songs to check out: “Wind-Up”, “Hollow Body”, “Sedated”, “Honey Pot”

 

 

 

 

 

White Hot Moon  (2016)

Songs to check out: “What Might Soothe You?”, “Plum”, “Nothing Rips Through Me”, “White Hot Moon”

 

 

Looking Forward: BlueNote Vocal Jazz Ensemble

Happy Friday, everyone!

It’s another sunny day here in Ann Arbor. I don’t know about you, but that automatically boosts my mood – plus it’s practically the weekend already!

This week I had the opportunity to chat with Cinderella Ksebati, Co-Founder and Music Director of BlueNote Vocal Jazz Ensemble. As another fairly new organization on campus, I was excited to learn more about how they have adapted this year and what their upcoming plans for performances were like. Let’s dive right in!

Founded in 2019, BlueNote Vocal Jazz Ensemble aimed to help fill the void of limited opportunities for students to participate in vocal jazz on campus. The group consists of both undergraduate and graduate students, including a mix of SMTD and other schools. They were able to perform on campus at the SMTD’s “Collage” event, as well as a few off-campus opportunities before campus shut down in early 2020 due to COVID-19. This hasn’t stopped Cinderella and her team, though. They are still working just as hard to “revitalize the attending-a-jazz-concert experience and in 2020-2021”.

“We are thinking, okay, how do we present this using technology, using what we have at our disposal, and continuing to make art, create jazz music, and start to get people engaged with this genre. And bring it back to the forefront of the arts as is such an American tradition, we want to bring it back and take bits and pieces of those traditions honoring and paying homage to all the vocal jazz greats. Of the groups like, for example, Take Six, New York Voices, so some of our program for the upcoming project that we’re working on, “Let’s Go to the Movies”, encompasses a couple of those things. We are mixing the media, we’re doing a 30-minute jazz film and we’re using all vocal jazz repertoire.”

To prepare for that project, BlueNote has been meeting via Zoom 2-3 times a week and using an online audio workstation that allows them to hear a little bit of the “blend” that vocal groups work so hard to achieve in performances. They have also incorporated a few individual, in-person rehearsals, following county and university guidelines. 

Though Cinderella does miss in-person performances, she notes that there have been some interesting developments in vocal jazz, at least in BlueNote, that she hopes will continue after COVID. Specifically, adding more storytelling into their performances is something she has really enjoyed. 

“It won’t necessarily be a film next year, who knows, but I certainly think that that is going to be changing some things and just in terms of our passions of the group members.”

Check out their most recent YouTube video above, performing “Walkin My Baby Back Home”.

BlueNote’s newest project, a short jazz film titled “Let’s Go to the Movies”, will premiere in April. You can stay up to date on their upcoming events by following their Instagram and subscribing to their YouTube channel. Lastly, keep in mind that the group holds auditions every semester, so definitely keep an eye out this Fall if you’re interested in singing!

That’s all from me this week! 

 

Stay safe,

Lucy

Looking Forward: This Week at the UMMA + New Interviews Soon

Happy Friday, Arts, Ink readers!

After a brief intermission, we will be back in action next week. I’ve spent this week reaching out to many exciting and diverse student organizations to learn more about how they’re handling the semester, and I’m excited to share what I’ve learned so far. 

In the meantime, I thought I would spend this week highlighting some events the UMMA is putting on this week that I found especially exciting.

If you’re a fan of spotify collaborative playlists and/or how art and music intersect, check out UMMA’s jukebox. Through that link you can fill out a form to suggest songs that pair with two of the museum’s newest art pieces. As someone who has always enjoyed interdisciplinary work, I found this project very interesting and I’m excited to see the results!

The UMMA is also putting together a virtual event called “The Adjacent Possible” on Feb. 18th at 8PM. They describe it as “[mixing] music performance, storytelling, and technology that converts the audience into an orchestra. The project culminates in the recording of an orchestral piece – the first and last ever to be performed.” If you need to transport yourself for a little while from the stress of schoolwork or job searches, definitely check it out – it seems like a really unique event. Pre-registration is required, so make sure you confirm ahead of time!

That’s all from me today. Check back next week for an interview with the co-presidents of Relevé – they had some really interesting points to make about the creative process and COVID!

Stay safe!

Lucy

Looking Forward: EnspiRED

Happy Friday, everyone!

Ashley King, Vice President of EnspiRED

We are back to our regularly scheduled content. This week I spoke with Ashley King, the Vice President of EnspiRED, to learn more about how they are adapting to the restrictions that COVID-19 has brought. This was a special interview, as Ashley is not only a talent and joy to speak with, but one of my good friends from high school. I was excited to learn more about the organization that she has fallen in love with.

In a normal year, EnspiRED is best-known for their annual fashion show with proceeds going to a charity they choose each year. Each show has a theme that is tied together through the outfits on the runway, the visuals that accompany the show, and even the wardrobes of those working the event. One of the most recent themes, astrology, was a personal favorite of Ashley. 

During the past year, EnspiRED has obviously had to adjust much of what they do in light of COVID. They can no longer host their fashion show in-person, as it can attract hundreds in attendance, but they are finding ways to fit what they usually do into this new world of COVID. 

I also asked Ashley about how she interprets the intersection of arts and fashion. She told me that to her, fashion is an art.

Current E-board for EnspiRED

“You watch a Marc Jacobs, or a Vera Wang, or anybody’s fashion show and you’re like, wow, it must have taken some ingenuity to put this together, or a really creative mind to come up with that. I very much feel that fashion is in our forum because not everybody can, like, pick up some fabric and make something that everybody wants, and that’s from high fashion to fast fashion. There’s an art to all of it.”

I couldn’t agree more – and the energy that has to go into a fashion show is way beyond just designing the clothes. The staging, the lighting, the music, the makeup, the hair, all add to the concept and sells the experience. 

If you want to get involved with EnspiRED, be sure to follow their Instagram account so that you can stay up-to-date on their upcoming events. Modeling and volunteer opportunities are also available most years, so be on the lookout for those. Lastly, their e-board will be opening up applications soon to lead the organization next year. Ashley’s advice? “Brush up on your interview skills.” Who wouldn’t want to be a part of one of the top fashion organizations on campus?

That’s all from me this week! Come back next week for more about the arts on campus this semester. 

Stay safe & stay healthy!

-Lucy