Q. What do you get when you combine some of the best local Detroit bands and the best college radio station on the planet?
A. A killer album of that perfectly captures the energy and originality of the Detroit music scene today.
I ran across “Motor City Gems” the other day at a non-profit Detroit improv theater, Planet Ant. Even though I had no intent of buying another album when the group of us set out that night, when I saw WHFR set up in the bar of the theater, selling the album, picking up a copy was a no brainer. It couldn’t have been a better decision.
WHFR is a non-profit volunteer run college radio station on the campus of Henry Ford College. There is not a cooler radio station in existence. Granted, I’m probably a bit biased in that opinion, as my wife and I are both alumni from many years ago, back when it was still Henry Ford Community College.
“Motor City Gems” is an incredible collection of some of the best music coming out of Detroit today. My personal favorites are the blues infused rocker “Lightning Strikes” by The Muggs (which kicks off the album), Carolyn Striho’s ethereal and moody “Oceans”, and “Jam Sandwich”, a jazz fusion inspired instrumental by The Kenny Hill group. But in all honesty this whole album is great – and I assure you, that is an unbiased opinion.
Back when I attended the college, WHFR was a very local, low powered radio station that was on the air only 12 hours a day. Today, they broadcast 24/7 and can be listened to nearly anywhere in the world through the Internet (just tell Alexa or Google “play radio station WHFR”). In addition to local music, WHFR’s radio programs play what is probably the most diverse range of music you will hear anywhere on the planet.
“The Pink Opaque” is a compilation album released in 1986 that was meant to introduce the music of the Cocteau Twins, a Scottish band that had released three LPs and five EPs in the UK since 1982, to American audiences. Despite having never released an album in America, the band had gained a cult following from airplay on college and alternative radio stations. The album consisted of material culled from all of their previous releases.
With swirling, effect laden guitars, a drifting, occasionally heavy bass minimalistic drums, and Elizabeth Fraser’s distinct dipping and soaring soprano voice, the band had a dreamscape quality to their music. But there was also a heavy goth influence, reminiscent of Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Cure. This is music that swirls around inside your head. Although not technically complicated, it’s music that’s intriguing and thought-provoking. It’s all about how the pieces all fit together.
I first discovered Cocteau Twins after picking up another somewhat obscure album by a band called Felt. That album, “Gold Mine Trash“, was recommended to me by the clerk of a local record store, who had come to know me fairly well. Elizabeth Fraser sang backing vocals a song called “Primitive Painters”. Her voice immediately grabbed me.
“The Pink Opaque” has special meaning to me as it was an album I purchased while going through a difficult time in my life. I could relate to the dark, somber mood of the music, yet at the same time found it oddly uplifting. It was an album that, with its layers of sound swirling in my head, helped me disconnect from what was bothering me, allowing me to reconnect with what I appreciated in life. Consequently, “The Pink Opaque” is one of my go-to albums when I’m feeling down or need to deeply ponder some subject. But sometimes, like now, I listen to it just because it’s a really good record.