‘Origin of What’: Tyvek’s war on complacency
Mike Donovan | Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Just over a year ago, a friend played me Tyvek’s “Midwest Basement,” a b-side track off their 2012 LP “On Triple Beams.” The song — a loud, loose and dark homage to the suburbanite lifestyle — sent me into a fit of manic romanticism. Tyvek’s slipshod energy may have been sloppy, but it was familiar. They played the kind of ferocious, low fidelity rock and roll that gave my friends and I hope in our early days of bandhood. The sonic sludge careening out of the car speakers reeked of the musty basements where we played for hours, scraping together rudimentary rock songs. It carried the sound of our countless mistakes and boundless passion. Tyvek’s track wasn’t a masterpiece. In fact, it was just the opposite. That’s why it clicked. As the screeching guitars and violent poetry came to a halt, I escaped my nostalgic daydream. “Midwest Basement” had earned its title and Tyvek a place in my record collection.
Veteran Detroit rocker Kevin Boyer released his first Tyvek EP “Blunt Instrumental” in 2009. The brief four-song burst sounded as if it were recorded on a single cheap microphone in one take. It was rough, to say the least. Since then, Boyer has released four more Tyvek LPs, with each new LP reflecting the band’s constantly shifting lineup (Boyer being the only permanent member) and the bandleader’s ardent quest to capture the Detroit zeitgeist.
Tyvek’s latest LP “Origin of What,” comes at an interesting time for the city. A surge of commerce is currently sweeping throughout the downtown areas under the direction of Mayor Mike Duggan. The influx of trendy restaurants and shopping districts into the economy has revitalized the city’s once desolate streets. The affluent millennial gentrification machine has steamrolled Midtown — now a hipster utopia — and is setting its sights on Corktown and Hamtramck. Detroit, after nearly five decades of despair, is in the midst of a resurrection.
Unfortunately, Detroit’s revival has a hidden cost. Mere blocks away from the downtown lights and the hip coffee bars lie the neglected realms of the city, where struggling residents continue to fight their dire circumstances. Gentrification and wealth haven’t eradicated Detroit’s maladies — they’ve simply pushed the ugliness to the outskirts. The local music scene has assumed the task of bringing this reality to light. Danny Brown’s masterpiece “Atrocity Exhibition,” for instance, exposed Detroit’s lingering pain with the eloquence of a respected poet and the powerful indignation of a lifelong urbanite. Few musicians, if any, could capture the city’s current state so accurately.
“Origin of What,” however, comes remarkably close. The album draws on the legacy of The Gories — an off-kilter punk duo from the late ’80s now worshipped as deities of the Detroit scene — but adds a more substantive verbal element to the fuzz. “The storm is cruising up the avenue,” Boyer blares on “Real Estate and Finance” before going on to criticize “the suburbs amuck” and vapid consumers with “cash to spend / as the pace, pace, pace begins.” He’s no stranger to the allure of Detroit’s financial explosion, and his serrated vocal attack and unhinged riffing unambiguously convey the commercial boom’s dark side. “Cancel that / build no more pyramids,” Boyer demands on “Gridlock.” The indulgent building projects and expensive stores are nothing more than pyramids to affluent success in Boyer’s eyes. They distract the populace from the bitter reality of the streets.
The title track offers a muddled solution. One voice asks the listener to “take steps to the source of the local home” while another voice diverges with a different, unintelligible message. The overlapping lyrics give a general sense of direction, but offer no guidance in which we can place any faith. Truly resurrecting Detroit, according to Boyer, must start at the source of local culture and commerce. Unfortunately, nobody can agree on who or what makes up that source. Depending on one’s perspective, it could be the downtown moguls, the millennial upstarts, or the silent thousands struggling on the outskirts. Boyer, as a musician, has no power to provide that perspective.
He can only offer his artistic angle — a vision built on loud guitars and blunt poetry, and art has its limits. Artists like Tyvek, Danny Brown and the Gories aim to present an ethos. They understand that attitude does far more to drive change than specific ideas. The same energy that fueled my musical proclivities is necessary to lay the seeds of the Detroit community’s collective paradigm shift in the midst of conflict and rampant disagreement.
Album: “Origin of What”
Favorite Tracks: “Origin of What,” “Real Estate and Finance,” “Tip to Tail”
Label: In the Red Records
If you like: The White Stripes, Protomartyr, Parquet Courts