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 9/9/22

I heard some nasty imperialist died, anyways, let’s talk about music!

Leo Sun-“I Don’t Wanna Be Strong”, September 2

LA “booty rockin cowboy” and songwriter delivers this dreary and atmospheric slow love bop. The mellow instrumentation really suits the vulnerable vocals.

Easy Sleeper-“Dream Prison”, September 9

“Dream Prison” is suitably dreamy with its clean and melodic guitar soaked with atmosphere and backed by low, whispery vocals. Easy Sleeper always puts out music that makes me want to go for a drive, and just cruise along.

Ghost Orchard-“bruise”, August 30

The constant drums are pretty up in the mix with this song, and it gives a really hypnotic quality to all the subtle instrumentation and whispery vocals that is quite satisfying. This cryptic song demands to be listened to on repeat to decode.

sleepyhead-“Hoax”, September 9

Sleepyhead really are a power duo; recording, mixing, and distributing their upbeat indie pop out of Manchester. Their music is relentlessly earwormy, and full of hooks. The acoustic start to this song is unexpected, but fits the song amazingly in their hands.

The Lounge Society-“Blood Money”, August 26

This track off of The Lounge Society’s Tired Of Liberty drives forward with constant, upbeat drums and a relatively simple but horribly catchy guitar riff. I love the chaotic energy of the song.

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.

HI 5 8/26/22

Oh man, this is a good week for music, I had to cut stuff. Wild.

Blast Vegas-“Girls At The Pool”, August 19

Hyper fucking catchy dance rock with unhinged B-52’s style vocals and lots of surf flavor.

Gary Link-“Meet Me In Nashville”, August 16

Atmospheric alt-country with a great build throughout the song.

Julian Belvedere-“Bleeding on your new guitar isn’t folk punk (it’s just pretty cringe), August 26

A passionate and vulnerable song out this UK folk-punker about taking responsibility for your mental health issues.

Charlie Smith-“Reap what you saw”

Another gloomy single from singer-songwriter Charlie Smith with his haunting, and soulful vocals.

Mila Ziska-“Concrete Hearts”

Beautiful indie-folk with subtle instrumentation and dreamy vocals, reminds me of Maggie Rogers.

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

HI 5 8/11/22

The music keeps coming and it never stops coming. Like a pornstar I guess.

Loops & Loops – “Beautifully Volatile”, August 5th

More from Loops & Loops (and there always is, that man records). Dark and beautiful indie folk song.

The Greedy Beat Syndicate – “If You Want It”, August 5th

Funky and chill. Fantastic bass, love the snare sound.

Matthew Milia – “Keego Harbor”, July 16 2021

I’m completely ashamed to say I just got my ears on this album. I’m working on a review of this album right now, and this is the best off an amazing album. Thought provoking Americana.

The Mountain Goats – “Mark On You”, August 2

The final single (I think) coming out before Bleed Out (which I am obviously very excited for, The Mountain Goats have been my favorite band for like a decade at this point). I think I still enjoy “Wage Wars Get Rich Die Handsome” more, but I love how The Mountain Goats are introducing subtle and melodic electric guitar parts.

Cheap Teeth – “What A Feeling, What A Day”, August 11

You can find my full review at Rock At Night here. Highly dynamic, and lyrically excellent garage rock that feels like a blend of UK and American influence.