Matt Bastardson’s “Hard Times” Is Alt-Country With Pontiac Edge

From Matt’s Website

The Pontiac scene won’t let me go. Here we go. So, we’ve got yet another stellar release coming out of one of the folks I met at Exferimentation Brewing Company’s open mic. For a place that’s been closed for a fair shake now, I really love how it keeps popping its head back into my life, it was a good place. Matt Bastardson’s “Hard Times” is well produced, working class Americana that feels like Metro Detroit’s own brand of country music. 

Maybe this is a controversial opinion, but I personally believe Michigan is becoming a real contender in the alt-country scene. We’ve got guitar gods like Billy Strings coming out, as well thrash-grassers The Native Howl, flawless musicians like myself of course, and we’ve got this single right here from Matt Bastardson. It’s been excellently produced into something that feels both modern, and retro at the same time, which also feel appropriately Metro-Detroit. Its alt-country/southern rock at its core, with a lot of blues and even more Americana. The chunky guitar effortlessly chugs and fills driven by the pocket drums, and fiddle that seems to travel between the ears as it plays. 

The star of the show is Matt’s fantastically edged vocals, and his grounded songwriting. A song about perseverance out of Pontiac feels appropriate. Lines like “Hard Times On My Shoulders/ Have Cut These Lines In My Face/ I Will Fight To Make A dollar/ Anybody, anytime, or place” deliver a blue collar feel that makes me want to go get shit done. The song feels thematically satisfying as a kind of come-back/debut as well, as it feels autobiographical. 

It’s been an absolute treat to get to hear music coming out of all these people I was able to see play in some way at Exferimentation. I want to say it’s all been surprisingly good, but I’m not truly surprised. All of them have been clearly talented performers, and the music they make reflects that. Matt Bastardson’s “Hard Times” establishes him as another example of the excellent country influenced music coming out of Michigan right now. The track is currently in pre-release, but you can get your hands on it by signing up for Matt’s mailing list on the Fan Magnet linked below.

Track Credits:

Tracked at 17 West Lawrence with Mike Seeger

Singer/Songwriter and Guitars: Matt Bastardson

Bass and Keys: Jordan Weiss

Drums: Rob Emmanuel

Fiddle: Wes Fritzemeir

Mixing: Ryan Cunninghan (Boxcar Audio, Pontiac)

Matt’s Socials:

Fan Magnet: Click here to get the track

My Socials:

HI 5 9/2/22

It’s September. I don’t have a point here, just making sure you were aware.

Hank – “Your Ex, Man”, August 28

Did I listen to this song initially because the band name is the name of my cat. Yes. Obviously. I have also listened to this catchy as fuck pop tune with folk elements several times since. It toes a great line between natural and more produced sounds.

Loops & Loops – “Can’t Shut It Out”, September 2

Loops & Loops consistently put out great singles and instrumental albums (I’ve written about them before). I love the intimate vibe of this track and the breathy, understated vocals are contrast wonderfully with dynamic instrumentation.

A Rueful Noise – “It’s Not That Kind Of Party”, August 26

Off of their EP Let The Revels Begin, this Lansing band delivers dramatic and dynamic indie rock that feels haunted (in a good way).

Red Scarves – “Robin”, August 24

This song feels a lot different than previous releases I’m familiar with from Red Scarves, and it is beautiful. A beautifully written and sung alt-country tune that makes me want to cry into a beer.

Bluhm – “Ranger”, September 2

Bluhm has been pumping out some wonderful singles, like “Everything” which you can read about here. I’m a sucker for a duet, and they move their dreamy sound in an alt-country direction that reminds me a bit of Shovels & Rope.

Keego Harbor Is A Masterpiece Of Metro Detroit Americana

This one isn’t going to be a completely standard review. I think the title gives away my opinion a bit, and I hold Matthew Milia’s Keego Harbor to be one of my favorite albums of all time. Now, I’m a bit behind, as this album came out July 16 2021. A bit old for the new release range, but I am hoping to get a few more reviews of my favorite albums up, if just to let you, dear reader, get to know my music tastes a bit better. I suppose it’s appropriate I got into this album late, as I was also pretty late to the party on Matthew’s band Frontier Ruckus, who I didn’t really get into until college. I absolutely loved the verbose prose-like nature of Matthew’s songwriting, and I think it’s only gotten better as he’s continued on as a musician. I got the chance to see them at a house show (Lamplight music festival I think, not sure what year) and they were completely magnetic as a three-piece. Matthew Milia’s solo work puts his effortless Americana lyricism first, and with Keego Harbor it’s resulted in a beautiful, consistent, and thoughtful album.

Keego Harbor is a dangerous cocktail of existential dread and childhood nostalgia, but its focus on the power of place, of family, and of love keeps the darker turnings in lines like “In the first part of life you just let in the light / And you loop it like a DVD menu / And someday in your 30s all your colors lose their bite / And you can’t change the channel now can you” from weighing the album down with dread, but embracing it and learning to deal with it. In a lot of ways this album feels darkly hopeful, especially the final lines of the albums namesake “Someday I think I’ll move back to Keego Harbor / ‘Cause keeping alive’s hard / But giving up’s even harder / And I’m not ready to die / I’ll just go simplify / In Keego Harbor.” I’m tempted to go through each song and pull meaning, and the depth is certainly there in his effortless lyrical exploration of Metro Detroit, but I think what’s truly masterful about Matthew’s songwriting on this album is that these songs are consistently thought provoking, and forcing the listener to self reflect, just as it seems Matthew has while writing this album. 

The lyrical themes and literary tie to place are not the only thing that keep this album consistent. While I find the vocal production to be occasionally a bit too clean, Matthews vocals aren’t lacking character, and his wife Lauren’s backing harmonies are gorgeous, and add great texture. There is a good depth of instrumentation for every song, almost all of them include the soaring steel guitar of Pete Ballard, and various instruments (Guitars, organ, bass etc.) played by Matthew and co-producer Ben Collins (drums, bass, organ etc.) with occasional piano played by Ryan Hay. I love the dreamy atmosphere in the songs, and its consistently a song forward country style that results in something that reminds me a bit of John Prine. While I can’t say I ever find Keego Harbor to be quite as musically exciting as Frontier Ruckus, its lyric centric, singer-songwriter approach has kept me coming back to this album more than any FR release (incredibly excited for their upcoming album whenever that drops though, obviously). 

I highly, highly encourage anyone from Michigan to give this album a listen, especially those from or familiar with the Metro Detroit area. Keego Harbor, that small town between the poverty of Pontiac and the abundance of Bloomfield Hills is effortlessly wielded and channeled by Matthew Milia on this album, and used to convey themes of aging, dread, family, and love. It’s a consistent, well-paced, full, and beautiful symbol of place. Matthews dedication seems pertinent: “Dedicated to Lauren, my parents, and the holy lands surrounding Keego Harbor – out from which I bulge a humble physical extension.”

Matthew and wife Lauren from an envelope in the Vinyl
Credits included with the vinyl

Matthew Milia’s Socials

My Socials

Submit To ME!

We’re happy to announce we are now accepting music submissions for coverage at Dirt Witch Records. We’re not a particularly far reaching blog right now, but we are committed to helping small and emerging artists with reviews, hype, and feedback. A submission is not a guarantee of coverage, but we will try to get to all submitted music, just be aware that we are a one man team writing for no financial gain.

When submitting music please include a picture of the band, a brief description of your band and the release including all prudent information (genre, release date, ways to listen etc.), and a link/mp3 to the release. As a fellow musician as well as a music critic I would strongly recommend any artists putting out music to get a press release with this kind of stuff together and place it in google drive.

Please tell your musical friends about us so we can continue to grow a positive community of small and emerging indie artists.

HI 5 8/18/22

CHRISTOPHER! Did you know Michael Imperioli has a band?

Bluhm – “Everything”, August 12

You can read the full review here. Haunting and understated indie pop. Love the reverby vocals and lyrical guitars.

Zopa – “Red Sky”, February 16

Another band I feel a bit late to the party on, with Michael Imperioli on lead vocals and guitar. Gives me strong The Velvet Underground vibes, love the deep bass.

Gogol Bordello – “Forces Of Victory”, August 16

Folk punk that is always super exciting, honestly this almost feels like a folk metal song, and I love that.

Permanently Pissed – “CHAT”, August 11

With the recent Bluhm review it seemed appropriate to CHAT about John’s other band Permanently Pissed. High distortion garage punk that doesn’t linger.

The Native Howl – “Sons Of Destruction”, August 18

Who gave these metalheads out of Leonard MI all these grandpa guitars. Native Howl continues to play dope ass metal on folk instruments making them one of my favorite groups in bluegrass right now.

HI 5 7/5

I’m going to try names for this format until I feel like one sticks. Anywho, here’s some newish tracks I’ve enjoyed. You’ll find a playlist at the bottom, with an attached weekly pick from Dirt Witch Records.

“Coward” by Ghostmarket, July 1st

Off of Ghostmarket’s debut wastelands these Portland post-rockers deliver a pensive song with a great western feel, and I love the progression and slow intensity of this song.

“The River Don’t Want Me Yet” by Loops & Loops, July 1st

Single from bedroom producer and lofi genius Loops & Loops mostly out of New York, this thoughtful and gloomy folk song is enhanced with fantastic production and atmospheric synths.

“Ghost Piano” by Of House, June 24

Off of their latest album Ripoffs these Detroit indie-poppers deliver a high energy, but ambient and pensive bop with a fantastic bassline and atmosphere.

“Never Hide The Herb” by Julian Belvedere, June 24

Debut single from a folk-punker out of UK this Frank Turner esque ode to the herb winds through tongue and cheek lyrics and driving horns.

“Remember” by Walter Mmari, July 1

Single from Walter Mmari, ambient and electronic artist out of South Africa, I love the floaty synths and constant strings, it reminds me a bit of the Westworld theme, definitely a headphones song.

Killer’s Song and A New Frontier

Quick little post to show off a couple of things. Birthday Boi Bash is coming to you July 13, and included on the album is a new version of one of my favorites from the self titled album, Killer’s Song. I recently completed a weird little cowboy AI art project, and it seems like these two were a match made in heaven, so I made a lil art comp. Lucky y’all it gets you access to the dope new version early. Enjoy 🙂

Art conjured in DallEMini and edited in Inkscape

Pre Save Birthday Boi Bash

And for good measure, here’s a live performance of the song

DWR Singles Roundup 6/28

Going to try something a bit more short form, I really need to work on some fiction. Anyway, I curate sometimes. So, here’s five singles you should get your ears on, and one recommended Dirt Witch Records track. At the bottom I’ll post a playlist with the songs attached and a larger playlist curated by Dirt Witch.

  • Sick Day: Stars Shining Over Me
    • Released June 17 2022
    • Sick Day is indie rock group based in Chicago(?)
    • I’ve actually done a show review of Sick Day before (I bought a hat), and they are, well sick. Their new single is no exception. Its emotional and dynamic, with an indie pop style chorus that moves into a more rock n’ roll chorus and verse, with fantastic drumming that carries the song through the movements, and some cool choral style vocals near the end to increase the impact of the final chorus.
  • Art Of Conversation: A Dream To Hold Onto
    • Released June 10 2022
    • Art Of Conversation is a 5 piece indie rock/ indie pop band out of Detroit
    • This song is super soulful, and full of atmosphere. To be honest, this song makes me want to slow-dance with my wife. This has to be some of my favorite steel guitar in a song, ever, and all of the instrumentals come together beautifully, and support the soulful singing.
  • sleepyhead: Centrefold
    • Released August 13, 2021
    • sleepyhead are an indie pop duo out of Manchester, England
    • This song is fucking addictive. It holds true to brit pop rock, with program drums, synthy bass and constant, down-strummed high register guitar. The vocals are perfectly laconic, and the chorus is catchy as fuck.
  • RUMKICKS: Goodbye Song
    • Released August 18, 2020
    • RUMKICKS are a punk (mostly duo) out of Korea
    • A bit old, but man this song is fucking cool. Do you like fast punk guitar, drums, and choral style vocals. Do you like all of that in Korean?
  • Loops & Loops: Everything Changes
    • Released November 5, 2021
    • Loops & Loops is a shoegaze/ambient/indie/dream pop project out of New York
    • This song is positively dreamy. The shoegaze is strong here with dreamy reverb soaked vocals over a soundscape of who knows, direct bassy drums and a clean, reverb heavy guitar.
  • Kyle Kaos: Bennie’s On Bennies
    • Originally released Jun 2012
    • Kyle Kaos was a punk project out of Chicago (Music being re-released digitally by Dirt Witch Records)
    • This is the song that makes me feel like I can get to know Kyle the most. I love the story style of the song, and the production is so perfectly lo-fi. Kyle’s guitarwork is punky but varied, always serving the song. I mean, I have obvious bias, but this song is fucking perfect.

But I Wanna Write Love Songs Single Review

Man I love doing single reviews. Hated being single though, damn I’m glad to be married. Anyways. We’ve got a new single from Detroit based rock band The Indigo Curve, But I Wanna Write Love Songs released June 17, 2022 and recorded at Rust Belt Studios in Royal Oak by Jake Halkey, with an accompanying music video directed and created entirely by Andrew Brumfield.

WHO ARE THE INDIGO CURVE. Off their socials

Detroit Based Rock Band

The Indigo Curve

But I dug up a bit more since they got covered in a quick shoutout in The Detroit News

Lineup: Ish Chowdhury, vocals; Adam Liles, guitar; Michael Liles, keyboard; Niko Kannapell, bass; Markus Kennedy, drums

The Detroit News

I listened back on their self titled EP from 2021 and I’d coin them as a 2000’s style indie rock band with elements of punk rock and psychedelic.

The single is addictive and high energy. It’s surprisingly dynamic for its length as well with a great guitar tonal shift from a crunchy, almost sharp guitar tone to a cleaner, reverb soaked and frantic guitar solo. The keys do a fantastic job at carrying these tonal changes throughout the song providing fantastic atmosphere. The drums help carry this dynamic feel with a switch from a heavy tom portion to a fast, cymbal heavy section. The bass is deep and has solid impact. My favorite element however, is the Julian Casablancas (The Strokes) style vocals which almost feel a little separate from the rest of the music, with a highly compressed and somewhat laconic vocal style that serves as the cherry on top to a superbly produced indie bop.

I’m not really a video critic, but I enjoyed the focus on intimate backstage style footage, and felt like it was really brought to life by the fast-cut editing and paper cut out animation style. It’s undeniable interesting and the song itself as I said, is a fucking bop. I mean, I pretty much always gush, but I fell like y’all would be pretty dumb not give this song a listen or check out the video. Definitely doesn’t suck.

Oh, and their playing at The Loving Touch in Ferndale tomorrow June 24th

The Detroit News Article

Their Socials:

My Socials:

Symptoms EP Review

There’s so much good indie music out there right now to review, holy shit! I need to go to shows, (damn social anxiety) because what I’m hearing from the Detroit seen is all fucking spectacular. Anyway, let’s talk about some of it. The Hourlies Symptoms. Y’all probably already know this because I don’t waste my time listening to bad music for negative reviews, I like it.

The Hourlies. The Hourlies? The Hourlies!

“The Hourlies are four Detroit scene vets that all reside somewhere in the space between garage

rock, blues, punk, and psyche rock. The result is blues guitar hooks, played at the speed of punk, with

just enough psychedelic chaos to keep things interesting”

Members include:

Chris Tomko – Vocals, Guitar

Benjamin Kay – Guitar

Jarrett Koral – Bass

Matt Maniaci – Drums

Previous releases include Signs in 2021 and Live On Site in 2020. The EP at hand, Symptoms released May 21, 2022 off Doomcat records.

I’d say The Hourlies do a pretty good job at describing themselves. Their music is heavy on riffs and solid guitarwork. They rebel yell and wind through hook laden, psychedelic rock songs. They sound akin to old school rockers with a punk edge like The Stooges or even a bit proto-punk like The Who. They definitely seem out of time like other local psychedelic rockers Sugar Tradition. The songs are dynamic and musically dexterous, grooving fully through the different movements. Symptoms is simultaneously very cohesive but displays a solid variety of style, from the super bluesy “S’pos’da” to the more aggressive (and superbly tasty) punky hook on “Mania”.

The production is incredibly listenable without feeling overdone or without charm. The guitar tone is fantastic throughout, feeling incredibly old school and deep. The bass is perfectly overblown and carries a nice heavy bass oomph. The drums stay in the perfect rock n’ roll pocket never overtaking the rest of the song, but keeping the energy up and providing a rock solid foundation to the dynamic songs. The vocals also feel old school, varying from a garagey/grunge kind of yell, or a more bluesy higher register, like in the song “I Got A Feeling We’ll Find Out” (which includes some fantastic vocal vibrato). The chops of these scene veterans is evident with soaring guitars over a rock solid driving rhythm section.

So, no surprise, I really dig this EP. I can’t really think of anything negative to say about, and I’ve got a feeling they’re gonna be on to my rotation, especially “Mania”. I’m super interested to see more from The Hourlies in the future. I’d love to see them really go crazy on a full album, maybe give us some ridiculous length solo’s a-la “Freebird” or some crazy pedal work, but hey, they know better than I. Go listen, go support. Doesn’t suck.

convenience is king

Check Their Socials:

Their next show is 6/17 at The Old Miami in Detroit. Check their FB for future shows.

and mine: