Let’s Dance Around Like Angels for the Neighbors Down Below
Ohana Media, 2014
The latest, full-length album from Mike Strain, native of western Massachusetts and current resident of Atlanta, GA, Let’s Dance Around Like Angels for the Neighbors Down Below is an interesting display of development. I remember Mike Strain from reviewing an EP he came out with in the spring of 2013. In April, 2013, I wrote up a review for Your Heart is Your Home Wherever You Go. On that one, there were four tracks: “Making War”, “TV Set”, “Negatives” and “Cigarette Burns”. I had to go back and re-read that review because, at least at present, there is barely anything available on the internet, biographical-wise, excepting a Facebook page and the new album, which is available for download on Bandcamp (http://www.bandcamp.com) and has a small blurb about him.
Well, as I re-read that review, it all came rushing back to me – Strain, as a kid, started out playing the trumpet and still has a knack for it; it shows up a couple times, both on the previous EP and this one, Let’s Dance Around Like Angels… Now he’s playing guitar, the acoustic guitar, which is the main accompaniment on Let’s Dance Around… and you do hear a little trumpet on “Rumors” and “Glow”, which I thought was an especially good song. It’s on “Glow” that Strain pushes the bounds a little and expands, both lyrically and musically. Another song to mention here is “Wonderfully”, which, like “Glow”, has an uptempo vibe to it. There is something like a spinning, reeling verve that you feel from these tunes. “Hand Me Downs”, on the other hand, is a more somber, self-examining song.
Another thing I noticed, comparing Let’s Dance Around Like Angels for the Neighbors Down Below vs 2013’s Your Heart is Your Home Wherever You Are is that on this new one, Strain, while maintaining a similar introspective vibe, relating the personal and inviting you, the listener, into his consciousness, for Let’s Dance Around Like Angels Strain adds a spiritual touch to some of his lyrics. On songs like “Counting on my Fingers”, “Hallelujah, All is New” and “Rumors”, Mike makes use of religious imagery; whether it’s a literal outpouring of faith or a metaphor wrapped around an interior outlook, I can’t tell. One thing, though, he isn’t proselytizing or be a moralizing holy guy, bible in one hand and guitar in the other.
Wherever he gets his inspiration, it is evident that Strain has been growing, developing in his songwriting. While the music still has that stripped-bare feel to it, I see no reason to change that. He plays with a passion that is a personal, introspective one, not feeling a need to punctuate that with bigger and more complex sounds. Just playing the guitar, the occasional piano interludes and his trumpet cameos, are the appropriate sound to go with his lyrics. The album is a confessional, of sorts. An open book Strain wrote with which to bare his soul and make himself transparent and vulnerable, something from which he gets strength. -KM.