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Artist of the Month
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December 2015
Mikal Shapiro
"The Musical
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Singer-songwriter Mikal Shapiro’s perfectly titled latest release, The Musical, is a collection of not merely songs, but 10 short stories set to wonderful music. The album is a work—or multiple works—of art that are just as mysterious and intriguing as any paintings you will find in a gallery. Shapiro’s palette is splattered with the complete spectrum of colors. There are dreary gray tones and bright whimsical flashes, melding together to create a soundtrack to life—one that touches many musical genres, including rock, folk, jazz, old-school country, and even gospel.
 
The Musical's opening act, “Nope,” is an airy, ethereal fantasy. Odd, evasive lyrics over a folk sound made jazzier by a muted trumpet give the listener a sense of drifting in and out of a dream on a rainy Sunday morning. Drums and crashing cymbals briefly end the slumber, until you are lulled back to sleep as the song comes to a close. Several tracks share this jazz feel, including “Out on the Town,” “Two String Blues,” and the wonderfully whimsical "Hot Cool." Shapiro's vocals are poised and effortless on each of these. 
 
“Here and Now” explores rediscovering love and a desire to forget (or never remember) the past. A dull snare beat blanketed by beautiful steel guitar rivals the purest of cry-in-your-beer country songs. Similarly, “This Way to Heaven” is country with an emphasis on gospel. It begins a cappella and, as the band joins in, becomes the loveliest song on the album. It is simultaneously serene and haunting.
 
Matching the mystery and irony found throughout the album, “Daniel,” the catchiest and most up-tempo tune, is also possibly the saddest. Daniel himself is an enigma. The storyteller, who acknowledges being a “friend” of Daniel’s, clearly knows little more about him than that he can “sleep like a Christian” and “drink like a demon.” The song turns dark when the protagonist is found dead, presumably by suicide. “But on that Saturday, Daniel was down / They couldn’t say where he was found, or how he was found.” Brilliantly, the listener is left to decide how Daniel may have met his demise, and why.  
 
Shapiro is fortunate to be backed by Chad Brothers (guitar and vocals), Johnny Hamil (electric and double bass), and Matt Richey (drums), along with a small army of additional local musicians. This adept team provides a canvas that Shapiro expertly fills. My interpretations of The Musical may differ from other listeners. As with any painting, the artist is not only revealing her emotions, but is also attempting to provoke a response—and Shapiro certainly does. My response may be lost in translation, as the peculiar, personal songs will pierce each listener differently.

--Brad Scott  

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Album review: Gentleman Savage - Open Eyes (EP)

Album review: Gentleman Savage - Open Eyes (EP)

I always enjoy hearing new bands that fully understand their influences, but don’t crutch on them. True musicians don’t simply regurgitate what the greats of old have done—they nod their caps to their predecessors and then find a way to push the musical bar higher and higher. Gentleman Savage has figured that out. Its brand of bubbly, '60s-infused synth pop is a dynamic and powerful melting pot of old and new.
 
"Overlord": Two minutes and fifty-eight seconds of high-energy, guitar-driven pop. The song works itself up to a fever pitch in the middle through the playful interplay of a well-written, breakdown bridge. Followed by the closest thing to a "face-melting” guitar solo you can get in this style of music, the song ends by trailing off over the chorus. Definitely a solid opening track. I imagine it as straight off the soundtrack of the long overdue made-for-TV movie version of The Wonder Years.
 
"Open Eyes": This is my favorite song on the EP, as I am a sucker for the “chug” punk beat. It sounds like The Animals stumbling their way onto Oasis’s tour bus, only to quickly realize that they needn’t stay too long. Again, it features a great late song breakdown, with harmonized falsetto vocals leading the listener by his willing hand back into the final chorus. The vocals are a clear focus and strength of this band and they are used to greatest effect on this track.
 
"Death in the Springtime": The most “psychedelic” of the bunch, it’s also the hardest for me to put my finger on. The beginning immediately brings to mind the droning indie styles of Bat for Lashes or Feist. The stripped-down emotional choruses take me to nervously slow dancing in the high school gymnasium (well, at least how John Hughes would explain what dancing in a high school gym would sound like). But just when I accept my Simple Minds fate, Gentleman Savage once again picks up the intensity through a series of distorted strains. The effort bellows with a full head of dissonant steam until the falsetto harmony vocals once again emerge and offer a serene bridge of sunlight back down out of the clouds and all the way to the last satisfying chord.
 
The best part of this EP? It leaves you wanting more. It is a solid release worthy of many thorough listens. The music of Gentleman Savage comes out like Gemini Revolution, The Quivers, and Thee Water MoccaSins all wrapped up in one vintage psychedelic pop blanket (which, by the way, these four bands on a bill would be spectacular. Someone make that show happen. Do it. Do it now.).
 
Catch Gentleman Savage on November 9 at Czar with Molehill, The Future Kings, and Little Rosco (Facebook event here). And be sure to pick up a copy of Open Eyes, which is now available.

--Zach Hodson

Zach Hodson is a monster. He once stole a grilled cheese sandwich from a 4-year-old girl at her birthday party. He will only juggle if you pay him. I hear he punched Slimer right in his fat, green face. He knows the secrets to free energy, but refuses to release them until "Saved by the Bell: Fortysomethings" begins production.

He is also in Dolls on Fire and Drew Black & Dirty Electric, as well as contributing to various other Kansas City-based music, comedy, and art projects.

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