One of the finest artists I’ve had the pleasure of learning about in 2021 is Dawning, the musical alter-ego of insanely talented and charismatic singer-songwriter and musician Aaron Senor. On the strength of his captivating and dreamy style of shoegaze/electronic rock, emotive vocals that go from ethereal breathy croons to impassioned soaring choruses, and electrifying live performances, the Grand Rapids-based artist has quickly earned a name for himself on the crowded Michigan music scene. Aaron is also drummer for Michigander, an outstanding band that’s also seeing its star on the rise.
Dawning released his wonderful debut single “Coronation” in early 2019, and followed this past February with the brilliant EP Petals (you can read my review here). “Rose Hips”, one of the stunning tracks from Petals, has spent the past three months on my Weekly Top 30, and is still climbing its way up the top 10. Now he’s back with an exciting new single “Ennui“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. With “Ennui”, Aaron makes a bold departure from the rather dark and moody vibes of his previous songs. He further elaborates: “‘Ennui’ is a declaration of sorts; a declaration of happiness, of change, and of hope, [and] a clear change in tone and mood from previous, darker releases. A perfect summer single for rolling down your windows and screaming the chorus at the top of your lungs.”
The song opens tentatively with quivering shimmery synths, accompanied by Dawning’s plaintive breathy vocals, then an aggressive pounding drumbeat suddenly enters the mix, exponentially dialing up the energy. His vocals quickly turn more impassioned as the music erupts into a bombastic and glorious soundscape of exuberant swirling synths, thunderous percussion and pummeling drumbeats, launching the song into the sonic stratosphere. As if to express an overwhelming sense of euphoria, he gleefully shouts the lyrics about coming out of darkness and despair into a life filled with light, hope and love: “And right when I thought life was not worth living, I saw you there. And I cannot deny I’ve got to give in, no matter where.”
“Ennui” is an exhilarating and grandiose anthem, and I love the ferocity of both the instrumental arrangement and vocals that Dawning employs to drive home his positive and joyously celebratory message.
Michigan seems to be a wellspring of great music, and over the past two months I’ve written about several artists from the Great Lake State, including Dawning, Au Gres and Michigander. I’m now pleased to introduce a fourth, the delightfully-named Jack Droppers & the Best Intentions, who just released their heartwarming new single “Welcome to the Party” on April 9th. The song is the fourth single from their forthcoming third studio album Dad Rock, due for release on June 18. As I always do when reviewing an artist or band’s music for the first time, I listened to their back catalog to get a better feel for their sound, and I have to say that I really like every one of their songs, even their live performances, which sound as good as their studio recordings.
Based in Grand Rapids, the six-piece is fronted by singer-songwriter Jack Droppers, with the Best Intentions consisting of Laura Hobson (tambourine, backing vocals), Devin Sullivan (guitar, backing vocals), James Kessel (keyboards, backing vocals), Garrett Stier (bass, backing vocals), and Josh Holicki (drums). Their wonderfully infectious and lively brand of Heartland rock’n’roll has drawn comparisons to such acts as Dawes, Delta Spirit, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, and Bruce Springsteen. And it’s that Springsteen comparison, along with the recent birth of Jack’s first child Naomi, that inspired their new album’s cheeky Dad Rock title. The single and album were produced and mixed by Jake Rye and mastered by Mike Cervantes (both of whom also performed similar duties on the records by Dawning, Au Gres and Michigander).
Jack states that “Welcome to the Party” acts as both thesis and conclusion for the album, “as it invites this child into a world that is sometimes beautiful, sometimes terrible, and often both at the same time. This song is perhaps the most personal song on the record (it’s the only time I’ve ever had to stop recording vocals cause I was crying big old dad tears). It is a song that was written for Naomi before she was born but was also written for you as we eventually step out of this strange season and begin to ask, ‘what does it mean to be alive?’ The song (like the record as a whole) arrives at this question and offers no quick answers but the steady refrain that ‘you are so loved, so you can always sow love‘.”
The song is both inspiring and beautiful, opening with a stirring four-part vocal harmony backing Jack’s lovely, heartfelt vocals that immediately made me think of The Killers’ Brandon Flowers. Like Flowers, Jack has an emotive vocal style with a strong vulnerability that’s quite endearing. The melody and lush instrumentals are gorgeous too, with jangly guitars accompanied by strings, mellotron, vibraphone and trumpet (which was played by Jared March at a separate studio and later added to the track, with the band never actually meeting him in person). It’s a wonderful song, and I love this band.
The sweet cover photo of Jack holding Naomi was taken by band member James Kessel.
As a lover of music, I listen to a lot of it, often for several hours a day. As a music blogger, I also learn about at least one new artist or band a day too. And every now and then, I come across a particularly good one who’s been around for several years, wondering how I could have possibly not known about them earlier. One such act is Michigander, an alternative rock project from Michigan (obviously) who makes some of the most consistently good melodic rock I’ve heard by any act in a long while. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been bingeing on their back music catalog, and can honestly say that I love every one of their songs – a rarity for even some of my favorite artists and bands. They dropped their latest EP Everything Will Be OK Eventually on March 19th, and I love it so much that I want to shout about it from the rooftops.
Michigander is the brain child of singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer Jason Singer. Originally from the central Michigan city of Midland, in 2014 he moved to Kalamazoo, where he started his music career playing in dive bars and open mics. He released his wonderful debut single “Nineties” two years later, followed by several more singles and two outstanding EPs, Midland in 2018 and Where Do We Go From Here in 2019. I first learned about Michigander in late 2019 when I heard his single “Misery”. One of the songs from Where Do We Go From Here, “Misery” spent many weeks on the Billboard Adult Alternative chart, peaking at #20, and has been streamed more than 3.5 million times on Spotify.
Over the years, Singer has been joined by other talented musicians for the recording and performing of his music. The current Michigander lineup includes guitarist Jake LeMond, bassist Connor Robertson, and drummer Aaron Senor. (Senor also has his own music project Dawning, whose gorgeous EP Petals I reviewed last month.) Singer has also recently relocated to Detroit.
Everything Will Be OK Eventually, released through C3 Records, was produced by Singer and long-time collaborator Jake Rye, recorded at Social Recording Company in Adrian, Michigan, and mastered by Mike Cervantes. I think it’s Michigander’s finest work yet, with a fuller, more polished sound, thanks to a greater use of electronic elements than on their previous music. In an article about the EP in BrooklynVegan, Singer explains his approach for the creation of this record: “In the past, I didn’t want to write anything I wasn’t sure we could pull off live. This time, I didn’t care. I incorporated programming and samples that went beyond being a rock band. I became more sure of who I am, what I want to do with music, and how I want to go about it. I tried to be more vulnerable and make something I’m very proud of. I got to add in everything I always wanted to.”
As its title suggests, the EP offers positive messages of hope in these troubled times, delivered with dreamy, upbeat melodies and gorgeous instrumentation. Singer confided on his Instagram page: “I am so happy that these songs are now out in the world for you to hear. Each one of these tracks was a labor of love that my friends and I worked so hard on for over a year. I hope this EP finds a special place in your heart for the years to come. I hope it becomes the soundtrack for this time in our lives as we are slowly healing and returning to some sort of normalcy. I couldn’t have made these songs without the help of my best pals and my incredible team.”
He further elaborates in his comments for BrooklynVegan: “Even though there was so much uncertainty, I found peace in the fact we were all in it together. It was straightforward about the times we’re in, but it was meant to be peaceful. I’ve said the title over and over again to all of my friends; eventually, we’ll get back to normal, and everything will be alright. Personally, I’m very optimistic and hopeful about everything to a fault. You can hear it in the music. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing though.” It certainly isn’t, and the result is a stunning collection of songs that make you feel good, even in the sad parts.
The EP opens with “Better“, an exuberant yet poignant song about loss and wanting to be a better person; “Cause life might be good, but I wish that it would be better. Just want to be better. / Cause you tried to love me and I probably should have let you. Cause things would be better. Things would be better with you.” The song is gorgeous, with a swirling torrent of jangly and chiming guitars, driven by a pulsating bass line and urgent drumbeats, all melding into an electrifying wall of sound. The dual guitars of Singer and LeMond are quite breathtaking.
The touching video for “Better”, which was released concurrently with the EP, shows a man, played by Alex Wells, missing his former wife or girlfriend and trying to straighten out his life and become a better person, while Singer lurks in the background (or foreground) as he sings the song. At first it appears the man missing his wife or girlfriend is making himself better in the hopes of winning her back, but at the video’s end, it’s revealed that she had passed away. About the video, Singer explains: “I’ve wanted to do a video that doesn’t feature me as the focus. So when [director] Tyler [Appel] pitched a story-driven narrative for this one I knew right away it was the right vibe. I think it really captures my personality as the video is goofy but also makes you cry. It’s emotional. ‘Better’ is probably my favorite song off the new EP, it’s the type of song I’ve always dreamed of writing and sounds the closest to what I think Michigander embodies.”
Next up is “Let Down“, the deliriously-catchy lead single for the EP and the band’s highest-charting single to date, peaking at #8 on the Billboard Adult Alternative chart. I love this song, which is currently enjoying a long run on my own Weekly Top 30. The track’s arrangement and production values are superb, and a close listen reveals so many wonderful touches like Senor’s ace drumbeats, LeMond’s rousing guitar solo in the bridge, and the haunting piano keys in the outro. The lyrics speak to those optimistic feelings one gets when meeting a possible new love interest, but also the nagging fear that it won’t work out: “Well I feel like I’ve known you. Even though I’ve only met you. I don’t wanna mess it up, I’m probably gonna mess it up. / Cuz I got high hopes, I got high hopes. But they let me down, they usually let me down.” The sweet video shows Singer’s playful side.
“Saturday” starts off gently, with strummed guitar and delicate percussion as Singer softly croons “Well it always feels like Saturday when I’m next to you. / And it’s all downhill from here, the minute that you walk away.” Soon, the song expands into a beautiful guitar-driven Kings of Leon-esque anthem. Singer’s heartfelt vocals remind me of Sir Sly front man Landon Jacobs as he plaintively sings of his fear of losing the things he values: “I heard my voice on the radio for the third time this week. So scared to death of losing it, I can’t breathe. And It’s all downhill from here, the minute that you realize that we’re all living in fear. And it’s something that we can’t hide. Well I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna let you slip away. Let you slip away.”
The beautiful tunes keep coming with “Headlights“, a bittersweet song about a lost love that Singer co-wrote with LeMond. Once again, the arrangement and instrumentals are stunning, with glittery piano keys and synths, over which LeMond’s layers chiming guitar notes. And as always, Singer’s vocals are deeply moving and lovely as he sings “Cause I can’t get over you. And I don’t think I want to.” “OK” is a bouncy, lighthearted tune with somewhat dark but optimistic lyrics that speak to wanting to be with the object of one’s affection, but also acknowledging that it’s alright to be alone, at least once in a while: “You’re the only one that I want to see right now. But since you’re not here, I think I’ll just go home. Kicking up the dust as I wander around downtown. I’ll do anything to not go home. It’s OK to be lonely. It’s OK to be alone sometimes.” I especially like the interplay between the jangly guitar chords and tinkling piano keys that take the edge off what could be an otherwise melancholy message.
Closing track “Together” is a charming song about coping with the anxiety and isolation many of us experienced at the outset of the global pandemic: “Well oh my god, the world is ending. Do you still want to meet me for dinner?If the world’s gonna fall apart, maybe we could fall together. If the world’s gonna fall apart, I’ll stick with you.” Musically, the song has an exuberant, sweeping melody, highlighted by glittery synths and jangly guitars, giving it a bit of a Coldplay vibe. The blaring trumpet notes add a lovely sophisticated texture to the track as well. At the song’s end, Singer wistfully laments “Wish I could be with all my friends, but I’m feeling all alone again.”
Well, what can I add about this beautiful EP that I haven’t already gushed about? Everything Will Be OK Eventually is a stunning, flawlessly-crafted work, and easily one of the best EPs of 2021. I now count Michigander among my favorite artists currently making music, and look forward to hearing more stellar music from them for years to come.
Michigander will open for Mt. Joy at a socially-distanced Detroit show on May 7 (tickets).
Last October, I featured Michigan-based artist Au Gres (the music project of singer-songwriter Joshua Kemp) when I reviewed his charming debut single “Nervous”. A delightful melding of indie rock, lo-fi and synth pop elements, the song speaks of allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in order to more fully experience the joys of life, love and relationships. I liked it so much, it spent two months on my Weekly Top 30.
Now he returns with his second single “At Home in the Dark“, another stellar and dreamy track, but this time featuring a somewhat edgier rock vibe he describes as “indie pop with teeth”. The song was produced and mixed by Jake Rye at the Social Recording Company, and mastered by Mike Cervantes (the same guys who worked with another Michigan artist Dawning, whose stunning EP Petals I reviewed a few weeks ago). Josh and fellow musician Noah DeLeon played guitars, and both they and Jake all had a hand in programming synths. Brodie Glaza played drums, and Josh’s girlfriend Linsley Hartenstein played the lovely piano in the outro.
“At Home in the Dark” is essentially a sweet love song, in which Au Gres assures his romantic partner that he’ll be there to support and comfort her through good times and bad: “I want to be there when it rains / I want to know you on your bad days, baby / I want to be there when you start to think the wrong things in the right time frame / So I’m on my way to hold you close / If it rains outside we’ll stay indoors with a glass of red we’ll sing in prose / We’ll do what it takes to feel at home in the dark.”
To drive home his message, he and his fellow musicians start with a palette of delicate swirling synths, then layer multiple textures of guitar and percussion to create a lush, emotionally-powerful soundscape. The music swells to an exuberant crescendo in the choruses, highlighted by a dramatic guitar solo in the bridge. Interestingly, the song opens with the same crescendo that later appears in the choruses, putting the song on a strong footing right from the start. Josh has a fine singing voice, and his lovely comforting vocals are perfect for conveying the tender feelings of love and devotion expressed in the lyrics.
With both “Nervous” and “At Home in the Dark” to his credit, Au Gres maintains his perfect score of releasing outstanding singles. I’m confident we’ll be hearing a lot more great music to come from this talented man.
I’ve previously noted several times on this blog of my fondness for dream pop, as I’m a sucker for beautiful melodies, luxurious instrumental arrangements and pleasing vocals. With that in mind, I’m excited to feature the artist known as Dawning, who’s just released his stunning debut EP Petals. Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Dawning is the music project of singer-songwriter Aaron Senor, who’s quickly making his mark on the Michigan music scene with his gorgeous songs and captivating live performances. All the songs on Petals were written, performed, recorded and produced by Aaron, with the exception of “Rose Hips”, which was co-written by Jake LeMond of the band Michigander, and the guitar solo at the end was performed by Aaron’s father Brian Senor. The EP was mixed by Jacob Rye and mastered by Mike Cervantes.
Released on Valentine’s Day, Petals was initially to be comprised solely of love songs, but Dawning’s approach evolved toward creating something altogether different. “The plan was I’d write each song about a former relationship, tie all those memories up in a bow, put it out, and never write a love song again. ‘Petals’ was always meant to be the carrying out of this, but it never was. Contrary to my plan, most of these are not proper love songs at all, but rather, explorations of feelings I’ve had in the past that I thought were love, but really were not. This has been my effort to decipher what those feelings in fact were, if not love. Embedded in each song is a question: What is the difference between infatuation/having someone make you feel really good, and love? Is it possible to be obsessed with someone romantically, but still not truly love them? Where does physical attraction end and love begin? Why do we seem to sometimes realize how much we love someone only after they’ve gone? I have not presented anything in Petals as a definite answer to any of these questions, because this project was never an essay. Rather, it’s an expression of my own experience, and that mere expression gave me the solace of a satisfactory answer. I hope ‘Petals’ gives you that same solace as well.”
The first track “Bloom” is a lush, dreamy affair with sultry R&B overtones in the vein of artists like James Blake. Using a rich palette of fluttering shimmery synths, crisp percussion and sparkling keyboards, Dawning creates a sumptuous atmospheric soundscape replete with well-placed moments of chirping birds and flourishes of soaring brass. His soulful vocals alternate between ethereal croons and commanding entreaties as he sings of being besotted by a lover: “Love full of color / Skies turning blue / I like the way your eyes always see the world / Everything, all in bloom / You are an ocean / Precipitate / My breath becomes so easy when I drown in you / My little hurricane.”
Dawning dials up the heat on “Liturgy“. With it’s sensuous thumping beat, sultry bass, and that bewitching organ, combined with his silky falsetto and breathy whispers, it’s downright sexy! When I didn’t think he could top the first two tracks, Dawning blows me away with “Rose Hips“. The songs starts off slowly, with pulsating synths and his gentle, plaintive croons, then explodes into a gorgeous cinematic wall of sound, highlighted by Brian Senor’s fiery guitar solo that leaves me covered in goosebumps. His vocals turn more passionate with the music as he channels The Weeknd with a beautiful soaring falsetto.
On the Sufjan Stevens-esque “Rose Lights“, Dawning sings of a brief love affair that didn’t survive the summer. The only sounds we hear are his lovely acoustic guitar and enchanting layered vocal harmonies, yet the song has a vibrant fullness of sound. His echoed breathy vocals evoke a sad resignation as he softly laments “I did you wrong it’s apparent, just know that I always cared but messed it up / Summer love, rising through the month of June / In my life, August came and went too soon / Summer love, falling in and out of you.“
Though it contains only four tracks, Petals is a rich and colorful feast for the senses. Every song is brilliantly executed and sonically beautiful, and I’m really impressed with Dawning’s incredible songwriting, musicianship and vocals. My only criticism of the EP is that I wish it were longer! I guess I’ll have to wait for him to record more music.
I’ve included links for the EP in two formats, YouTube and Spotify: