Joe Michelini could have just sat back and formed another band like River City Extension and done all right. He could have just said, “I’m going to follow the typical formula and play pop-based rock,” and he would have been fine. But instead, he decided to really go his own way and play and produce original music that fits him and his timeline and so far, it’s worked out well for him. In anticipation of his most unholy release, Tentanda Via, and in the service of his most loyal followers, The American Trappist Offers, Amuse-Oreille, Vol. 1, with respect to the void, as sustenance for our lost souls. This EP is a sampling of what is to come, and it gives a great look into an artist that has made his own music, his way, and steered clear of the major label trappings.
As we all know, Michelini broke out of the Toms River Band, River City Extension. To say he broke out is wrong. The reality is that he actually broke that formula and took a deeper dive into his own direction and interests, pulling out some great music and introspective lyrical content along the way. His first project way very different than Amuse-Oreille, Vol 1. In Satan’s Kingdom National Park, delved more into electronica and free-form than this latest project. The newest offering utilizes more musicians and hands-on songwriting than the first few tunes I reviewed, and that’s the stuff I wanted to get to for this column.
I was always curious as to the name of the band, and I finally got an answer. Michelini himself says, “I chose American Trappist because I think it is a strong name and represents my appreciation of beer and Leonard Cohen. In actuality, American Trappist is about the pursuit of happiness, and at times is a blend of fiction and nonfiction. It’s informed by my life and experiences, but I wanted it all to be a little removed. You know, like sci-fi is removed. I want to make good entertainment. I think in River City, we weren’t always sure what we were pursuing or what we wanted to be. It’s nice to build the foundation on a slightly more informed idea.” So there ya have it; sweet, short and summed up in one quick paragraph.
But what’s not summed up is his writing style and ongoing musical exploration. Michelini has chosen to return to a more intimate form of writing for Amuse-Oreille, Vol. 1. His use of consistent instrumentation and emotional delivery shows Michelini’s true pop-folk-rock roots coming back in droves.
The latest tracks were recorded in the bands home studio, “The Abbey,” in Gibbsboro, NJ, and produced by The American Trappist & Slpmnstr. The songs were also engineered by The American Trappist & Slpmnstr.
Let’s take a look into the mind of Michelini and the band and see what they’ve come up with for this first installment of what will eventually become the full album, Tentanda Via.
First song up is called “Soot,” featuring Candice Martell (Hemmings). Guitars join Michelini, laying down chorded trills before the band kicks in. Once it does, Michelini and Hemmings’ own Martell duet this breezy, California sunny tune like nobody’s business. Martell and Michelini sing as if they’ve been doing this together for years and it really carries the song. “Soot” is a strange name for such a bright song, but Joe does what he does, and it works. Drums, bass and guitars chug, chime and grind in unison as the duet spins their tale over pianos. Martell’s vocals are emotional and plaintive, complimenting Michelini like no one else. The lead break dishes dirty, tube-fueled brilliance before the duet returns. This is a fantastic song that should put Michelini on the rock ‘n’ roll radio map once again. Melodic and well-crafted, “Soot” is a dirty, little gem.
“Fear of Nothing” is next, and comes off of the player with all the grit and beauty of The Cars meets Lou Reed. Michelini croons over the top of punkish rock ‘n’ roll guitar, bass and drums crafted in the vein of the Dead Boys. I love the clean, tremolo guitars in the beginning. Rhythm guitars chug, click and scratch their ugly beauty throughout. The lead at the end of the song is gnarly as hell and reminds me of early Steve Jones’ stuff. Quick and to the current point, “Fear of Nothing” kicks, bucks and stampedes to the finish line.
“Heaven” is a remix of the Canadian goth-folk/noise rock edition type. Michelini and his crew go far into their psyche to unveil this sophisticated piece of writing magic. Pianos kick things off with simple chords as guitars scratch and scrape. Michelini starts to sing over the top, and the band hangs back. Michelini holds things steady as he sings his story before distorted guitar riffs sing the bridge. He ramps things up in the second verse vocally. The urgency builds as Michelini sings and percussion picks up. The middle-eight utilizes distorted guitars, synthesizers and bass and drums as it continues to evolve in stature and sonic delivery. Guitar riffs are creepy and monster-like as the band keeps going. When they finally break into the back half with guitar leads and piano hits, the song refocuses, and Michelini and crew finish things off with style.
“Fireworks-Revisited” is the final song on the disc. The song kicks off with synths, guitars, bass lines, and percussion. Drums come into the mix as Michelini starts singing. His voice reminds me of the late Benn Orr from the Cars. Michelini’s skill as a writer hasn’t been diminished at all to date. His lyrical lamentations steer towards exultation and the city of brotherly love fills the subject matter. Guitars chirp, chug, and layer as the rhythm section holds everything down like a magnet. Michelini’s melodic knowledge is vast, and he knows how to use dynamics to move his piece from beginning to end seamlessly.
Amuse-Oreille, Vol. 1 is yet another terrific sampling from the mind of Joe Michelini and American Trappist. With this latest unveiling, we see an artist continuing to grow in a truly original style, and I can hardly wait to see what he comes up with for Tentanda Via.
American Trappist continues to unveil captivating music to new fans and old, and I believe that Amuse-Oreille, Vol 1 will see good airplay and continued success for a writer who plays by his own distinct rule. For more information on American Trappist, head over to amtrappe.com.