Produced by longtime friend Cate Le Bon, Boy from Michigan is Grants most autobiographical and melodic work to date. Grant stopped being a boy in Michigan aged twelve, when his family moved to Denver, Colorado, shifting rust to bible belt, a further vantage point to watch collective dreams unravel. Across 12 tracks, Grant lays out his past for careful cross-examination. In a decade of making records by himself, he has playfully experimented with mood, texture and sound, all the better for actualizing the seriousness of his thoughts. At one end of his musical rainbow, he is the battle-scarred piano-man, at the other, a robust electronic auteur. Boy from Michigan seamlessly marries both. With Le Bon at the helm, Grant pared back his zingers, maximizing the emotional impact of the melodies. A clarinet forms the bedrock of a song. One pre-chorus feels lifted from vintage Human League. There is a saxophone solo. Boy from Michigan ultimately swings between ambient and progressive, calm and livid.
The albums narrative journey opens with Grant at his artistic prettiest, three songs drawn from his pre-Denver life (the Michigan Trilogy, as Grant calls them): the title track, The Rusty Bull, and County Fair. Each draws the listener in to a specific sense of place, before untangling its significance with a rich cast-list of local characters, often symbolizing the uncultivated faith of childhood. Elsewhere, tracks like Mike and Julie and The Cruise Room offer an affecting plunge deep into Grants late teenage years in Denver, while the midpoint of the album is highlighted by Best in Me and Rhetorical Figure, a pair of skittish, scholarly dance tunes that build on the lineage of Grants electropop heroes, Devo. Childhood as a horror narrative is the theme of Dandy Star, which observes a tiny Grant watching the Mia Farrow horror movie See No Evil on an old family TV set, and finally on The Only Baby (released this January) Grant removes his razor blade from a pocket to cleanly slit the throat of Trumps America, authoring a scathing epitaph to an era of acute national exposition.