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Little Animal gives Detroit’s rock scene a sultry edge

By Phreddy Wischusen
The Michigan Citizen 

Rachelle Baker and Nick Morrow of Little Animal PHOTO BY ALEXANDER CASTANEDA

Rachelle Baker and Nick Morrow of Little Animal PHOTO BY ALEXANDER CASTANEDA

Detroit rock shows are loud, sweaty and usually marinated in the cheapest beer the venue has to offer. If you don’t stand outside smoking through the whole show, you’re guaranteed to see something pretty raw and wild, three or four bands shredding and distorting anything in their path. But innovation and change are irrepressible in the musical tradition that churned out Motown hits nationwide, re-tooled to create techno and re-imagined the blues into garage rock. 

On any given night in the city’s unkempt rock venues, in between punk bands and garage rockers, you might discover the sleek and sophisticated style of psychedelic R&B group, Little Animal.

“It’s always pretty surprising finding out the kinds of people that like our stuff,” says singer Rachelle Baker. “We’ve … played shows with some pretty hard rock bands and indie rock guys and people seemed to be into it.”

Little Animal is made up of two collaborators: Baker and Nick Morrow. Morrow begins the process of writing their songs by making the instrumental parts, fully-fleshing of the song structure and the orchestrations using synths and samples. “I (love) the idea of being able to construct a virtual environment out of sounds and audio effect,” Morrow says. “When working on instrumentals, I often go to great lengths to make something as immersive and strange as possible, while still maintaining some kind of danceable rhythm.” Morrow’s instrumentals have the melodic sensibility of early Bjork pieces updated with the kind of minimalism characteristic of most of Drake’s current hits.

Baker waits until Morrow had fully-realized the instrumental parts before she composes the lyric sor the melody. 

“I let the music form the words and feel of the song in my mind,” Baker says. “It’s really hard for me to write before a song is made, because it makes me feel like I’m just cutting and pasting lyrics to an unrelated thing, so I never really do it. I write little lines here and there in random notebooks sometimes though, and that helps me build songs.”

Baker’s vocal contributions have the smoothness of Sade, but come across as less pleady — delivering her lyrics of longing with a sharp-edged resignation more reminiscent of Erykah Badu. “Don’t make me wonder; tell me you love me,” she commands a shadowy lover in “Hands Move Slow.” Like the dialogue in Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms,” Baker’s stories are terse, but ripe with feeling. Though many of the characters in her reverb-drenched laments are based on real-life people, some are personifications of larger, more existential issues. “I sometimes use longing for a lover in songs as longing for an answer, for closure or for a sign,” she says.

Little Animal COURTESY PHOTO

Little Animal COURTESY PHOTO

That concept manifest in Morrow’s spacious orchestrations as well. “I like to think of longing as a guiding force to becoming fulfilled,” he says. “It is the emptiness that grows within you as the life you fantasize about living gains prominence over the life you are living in the present.”

When playing live, the duo conjures the moonlit scenes in Baker’s lyrics. Ata recent show at P.J.’s Lagerhouse in Corktown, Baker sang as if no one was watching her – with the intensity of the last paragraph of a love letter. “Billions and billions of miles apart, so far removed from beating hearts, but I do choose my solitude. But I do choose to seek the truth, ‘cause it’s so lonely out here…”

“I don’t think (Loneliness and longing) can necessarily be cured, so much as they can be treated,” Baker told the Michigan Citizen. As a laborer in love song though, she retains some optimism: “You’re always going to have a little bit of longing for something no matter what, but a beloved can definitely help.”

Little Animal plays live at P.J.’s Lagerhouse (1254 Michigan Avenue) on Aug. 19 at 9 p.m. To hear Little Animal’s music and learn more about upcoming shows, visit www.facebook.com/littleanimalsounds.

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