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Antrim Dells' new album shows musicianship, nostalgia

Jacob Bullard, Brian Voortman, Laura Hobson and John Hanson debut Antrim Dells' newest album this Saturday, June 29th at Nice Gallery.
Antrim Dells

Antrim Dells /Courtesy of Antrim Dells


Antrim Dells songwriter Jacob Bullard suggested we meet in Grand Rapids' Pub 43, a Division Street dive bar, to discuss the soft, folky thoughtfulness of Antrim Dells' newest album, "Given Name."

While surly pubs and intimate folk music contemplations don't often go hand and hand, his choice was appropriate. Antrim Dells' newest release begins to scratch the surface of Division Street from the eyes of "just a boy from Traverse City," as Bullard puts it.

"Even being surrounded by concrete is a new experience," says Bullard, who after recently graduating from Hope College, moved to Grand Rapids to co-found the Gaspard Gallery and enjoy a change of scenery.

Although Bullard's current thoughts are on the experiences he continues to have while living on Division Street, the album, performed by Brian Voortman on drums, Laura Hobson on piano, Bullard on guitar and all three singing in harmony, waxes plaintively for bygone days in pastoral settings and simpler, younger times.

"It's a tradition among young singer-songwriters to explore the loss of innocence and coming-of-age," says Bullard.

The album centers around sentimentality and the memories of youth, draped in lush three-part harmony. The band carries a penchant for dynamics and musicality not often heard in young performers. Songs like "Heirloom," with light electric guitar and angelic piano, feel both plaintive and melancholy.

"It gets so heavy sometimes, that symbol hanging off my neck," sings Bullard. The song represents a moment of pause and reflection: what does it mean to grow close to your family while also wanting to be your own person?

"'Heirloom' represents a deep, instinctual desire to be like our parents," says Bullard. But the weight of the past often grows heavy.

As much as this could be an album about experiences on Division Street, many of the songs represent a point in time before being fully acclimated to life downtown.

"Able Lover" starts with the singer looking out the window onto a rainy street, becoming lost in the memories of wanting to please his father as a child. It ends with a question: "Strong able lover, will I ever be as patient as you are? Still giving endlessly?"  The harmonies of Hobson and Voortman are stunning, as they are throughout the album. Voortman's drumming and Bullard's guitar work are nimble yet fierce, striking a balance and providing an edge to the sentimental lyrical content.

Powerful tracks like "Laurel" and "Your Place" highlight the cohesiveness present in the band's sonic structure. Hobson takes a turn singing lead on "Empty Spirit," one of the catchiest tracks on the album. "Follow Me" and other full band tracks, balance the album's quieter, calmer selections.

The album closes with "Not My Doing," which Bullard says "came from a very direct experience I had with a homeless person." Lyrically the song is the most straightforward on the album, with deep harmonies surrounded by a single acoustic guitar, thoughtful and haunting.  

This is where Antrim Dells leaves us; we've journeyed through the scenic childhoods of northern Michigan, down the coast of Lake Michigan, and onto that famous Grand Rapids street, wondering, waiting, eyes open. It's a fine album that takes its listener on a journey of nostalgia and contemplation, all the while coating the lyrics in rich three part harmony, pulsing drums and cascading piano.

The album allows you to pause and reflect on your own life, your own loss of innocence, your own longing for the days of youth. When you awake, the world is in front of you and you are no longer a child, but an adult, secretly ready to grow up.

Antrim Dells' album release show is Saturday, June 29th at Nice Gallery. More info can be found here.

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