Turn It Down!

A look at new, locally-made music

New single from Conspicuous Bystanders, and a surprise EP from The Plurals

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This week, Turn it Down! dishes dirt on new releases hot off the press from two local bands. The first is a soulful digital single, the second is a raw EP recorded remotely while all band members separately self-quarantined.

REVIEW: Conspicuous Bystanders “Hand in Hand” (digital single)

Back in April, Lansing’s own Conspicuous Bystanders dropped its latest single, “Hand in Hand.” The moody yet groovy track exceeds the five-minute mark, allowing the band in all of its sonic glory. Guitarist Emmet McGuire kicks off with some distorted riffin’ and a little hooky, John Frusciante-esque guitar noodling. From there, lead vocalist Jenna Roark commands the track with her ominous, soulful snarl. The rhythm section of drummer Zachary McKinney and bassist Duncan Tarr hold it down with expert-level precision. A strength of this local outfit is its ability to shift gears seamlessly within one track. They let the song breath and go where the mood takes it. “Hand to Hand” may start as a low-key funky jam, but then builds into an ethereal Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”-style ballad, before swiftly exploding into rock ’n roll hugeness that would make “Use Your Illusion”-era Slash proud. The Conspicuous Bystanders don’t follow the rules on this single while simultaneously sounding tighter than ever. If you’re ready to rock, this single is on all streaming platforms.

The Plurals “Stumblebee” EP: Tommy McCord explains new release

Last week, The Plurals dropped a surprise new EP, “Stumblebee.” The six-track digital release (recorded remotely by each band member and then mixed together later) was intentionally unveiled on June 5, the day Bandcamp.com allowed artists to keep all proceeds from the download. However, The Plurals have decided to donate the funds to Black Lives Matter Michigan / Liberation PAC. The release is posted on theplurals.bandcamp.com and gtgrecords.bandcamp.com. Tommy McCord (guitar/vocals) offered some insight on the new release and what his band’s been thinking about this year.

“A little over a year ago, we released the first in a series of EPs that we plan to comprise the fifth full-length Plurals album, ‘BEES,’” McCord explained. “Plurals drummer Hattie had a baby last summer, so we took a break and reconvened in the fall to release the second volume, which features a song about police brutality called ‘merican dreamin’ — the chorus of that song is the phrase ‘I Can’t Breathe’ over and over.

“We were singing about Eric Garner then and the fact this phrase has been said by multiple black people who have been murdered in police custody is beyond heartbreaking,” he added. “The serialized process of making and releasing these new recordings has allowed for these instances of fluid meaning in the songs.”

And while this release was pieced together during a pandemic, McCord said “Stumblebee” was initially supposed to be a fully engineered and produced EP — so the band hopes to eventually re-release final versions of the songs. In the meantime, McCord said this release is a reflection of what’s been on their mind in 2020.

“I wrote the leadoff song ‘18-49’ in mid-March after Bernie Sanders lost the Michigan Democratic primary,” McCord said. “It was conceived as a call-to-arms to my generation to look beyond the distractions and divisions of the world and unite to end the stranglehold of Republicans, bigotry and white privilege that are a scourge on our society. There’s a line in there about COVID-19: ‘We’ll be so loud, right after we don’t have trouble breathing.’ That now only makes me think of George Floyd.

“This is a song that was written about an election that now seems like the distant past — but it feels like I was writing about the ongoing protests against police brutality,” he added. “Though if I were to try to write a song about it at this moment it would likely just be one sustained, unintelligible scream.”

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