It has been eight years since longtime Chico singer/songwriter Fera (aka Mike Strishak) has put out a proper album of new material. This month, as a gift to sheltering-in-place music fans hungry for tunes, he ended the drought and released Aurelia online on his Bandcamp page. It is a wonderful recording; already one of the best albums Arts DEVO has heard by a local artist.
This is not an unbiased review. In fact, it can’t really be called a review. I am way too close to the songwriter, who is also a friend and bandmate. Plus, even though the album was just released, I’ve been listening to versions of it for years. Seeking feedback, Mike has sent me mixes of the recordings at various stages, the earliest of which surprised me so much that I pulled my car over to the side of Highway 99 to call and tell him how it thrilled me.
So, yeah, huge caveat right off the top.
It’s also worth pointing out that I’ve been following Fera the local artist since before we knew each other, and in my capacity as arts editor for the Chico News & Review I’ve tracked his musical output over past 13 or so years. And the wide view of one artistic life that my vantage point provides is very gratifying, and I think noteworthy, despite my bias.
Fera started performing in 2007, at the age of 20, hitting local open mics at places like the now-defunct Crux Artist Collective and Has Beans Coffee’s old downtown location. He was epically shy, but doggedly brave, and once he tasted the juice of playing music live, he never passed up an opportunity to get on stage. The bashful/relentless singer-songwriter was kind of Fera’s calling card. His gothy-folk vocals were expressive and constant, a style that paired well with his acoustic guitar, mysterious and poetic lyrics, and scarves-and-thrift-store-sweater aesthetic. And he played (and continues to play) everywhere, anytime.
Early on I was struck by how singular of a presentation Fera was, and I was captivated by his shows and his self-recorded and -released recordings—three albums of dreamy folk between 2009 and 2012. In 2013, the CN&R critics picked Fera as the Best Local Songwriter for the Chico Area Music Awards.
As he found his way around the local scene, Strishak also started sharing songs with various collaborators, playing and recording with a succession of rock crews—from The Great Good to The Chrome to Viking Skate Country (the quartet I belong to as well).
Listening to the new Fera album it is apparent that he used his eight years between solo albums not only to flesh-out and refine the Aurelia recordings, but also to explore song dynamics with his bands as well discover a newfound confident vocal execution that makes his solo tunes really take off. Add the varied and often surprising sonic experiments that punctuate the tunes—the exhilarating climax of distorted guitar on the otherwise acoustic “Come Down;” the found sounds on the title track; the muted spoken word on “The Black Water” (“You are never alone and are never out of reach”); the jarring bursts of noise on the delicate/pretty “The First Leaf”—and the overall impression is of Fera coming fully into his own.
To sum up, this is me saying that an artist who is my good friend, and an artist who this longtime local-music observer has followed for years, has made a beautiful piece of art. For what that’s worth, coming from me, someone who you may or may not know personally.
More local-musician news:
To mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day this week, Portland musician/native Chicoan and longtime CN&R contributor Robin Bacior has released a new song called “Earth Baby.”
Bacior has lived in Portland for years and has made a name for herself there as a singer/songwriter, releasing five albums and a couple of 7-inch records over the past decade. The “Earth Baby” single is her latest, and though it was recorded in 2018, its message of getting outside and reconnecting with nature (“the world misses you, earth baby”) is something that should resonate with most of us couped up indoors during the COVID-19 lockdown, especially when paired with the sweet video for the song that was released simultaneously. Bacior reached out to her friends from all over and asked them to film clips from their home life as they shelter in place, and then stitched together the scenes—a woman doing yoga with her curious dogs, someone preparing a meal, a couple dancing on the lawn—for an engaging collage of intimate moments that Bacior described as “so tender, and full of hope.”
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