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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: The Electric Lungs - Simplified and Civilized

Album review: The Electric Lungs - Simplified and Civilized

Every person that picks up a guitar for the first time does it with at least some amount of notion that it will make them a rock star. After all, any musician who tells you that they never wanted to be Brian May circa 1976 is a goddamn liar. But there comes a time in almost every musician’s life where he or she realizes that dream is just not in the cards. Not for lack of trying or talent, but sometimes that lightning just doesn’t strike. So, what to do? Some go hang up the amplifiers, squirt out four kids, and buy a split level and a Kia. Some go the dreaded, dreaded, dreaded, dreaded cover band route. But the lucky ones are able to realize that there’s so much more to the making and celebration of original music than being uber popular for it. The Electric Lungs are in this wonderful place. They play THEIR music, THEIR expression, stripped of any notion of what it’s “supposed” to sound like. With Simplified and Civilized, they play the role of trendsetters, not trend followers.

The band provides us with ten tracks of energetic, punk-tinged, keyboard rock. Tripp Kirby fronts the bursting arrangements with the overzealous spasticity of a carnival barker. His voice is perfect for these songs, his moments of tenderness and sincerity in songs like “Every Ending” and “Eternal Smile” equally as effective as his red throated scream-singing in “Illium Works” and “(It’s not the) Bones That You Break.” The rhythm section of Marc Bollinger and Eric Jones does more than just lay the foundation. Together they shape and manipulate the dynamics of these songs, building and breaking them down to great effectiveness. The wildcard is the final gloss applied by Jason Ulanet’s keyboard work. Whether synth, horn, or a just simple piano, he further propels these songs into another category. In the end, you end up with something punky, something rockabilly, something proggy, sort of like Yes and Black Flag sharing a Bloody Mary at Brian Setzer’s wine mixer.
 
“Catching Up” is their take on the good old murder ballad. With equal parts psychopath and bubble gum, The Electric Lungs would like to remind us that under every serial killer there is a sweet little boy. Or something like that.
 
“Every Ending” is such a beautifully orchestrated song, cleverly organized and woven together perfectly. It is a funky little breath of fresh air in the middle of a wolf pack of punk songs.
 
“The Shit that I Eat” bursts at the seams, kind of like Sum-41 slave-driving an old-timey jazz band. The sullied horns and old-timey piano provide a wonderful counterpoint to the otherwise straight-forward and shit-kicking punk song beneath.
 
The album closes with one of the best efforts “Away to Stay (Hey)”. With all cylinders firing at the brink of explosion, this two-and-half-minute song is the perfect amount full of pounding drums, driving bass lines, fierce guitars, howling synths, and group-shouted “heys.”
 
This is a super strong record from the first strain to the last. The band has managed to take a group of very familiar rock music elements and spin them into something most decidedly new, something most decidedly themselves, something most decidedly The Electric Lungs.
 
The Electric Lungs will be playing tonight at Coda, after Dolls on Fire and The Hillary Watts Riot. Show starts at 9:30 p.m. All ages, $5. Facebook event page. If you can't make it tonight, they'll be at The Riot Room on Friday, June 7.
 
--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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