Mike Midwestern releases “Oh My Soul”

Mike Midwestern ditches punk immaturity for some cliché acoustic ballad duds on “Oh My Soul.”

Indie rock artist Mike Midwestern. He will release his new CD Oh My Soul during a release party on July 13, 2013, at Honey in Minneapolis.

Image by Bridget Bennett

Indie rock artist Mike Midwestern. He will release his new CD “Oh My Soul” during a release party on July 13, 2013, at Honey in Minneapolis.

by Joseph Kleinschmidt


Green Day’s “Dookie” made an impression on a 14-year-old Mike Cunningham.

“That’s really what made me want to play an instrument,” he said.

Known as Mike Midwestern, the singer-songwriter’s dissatisfied timbre sounds like a less sarcastic Billie Joe Armstrong, and Cunningham likes to think he’s less whiny than the Green Day singer, too.

“A lot of people tell me [I play] sad music,” he said. “They joke around that my music’s ‘sad bastard music.’”

The title to Cunningham’s second album, “Oh My Soul,” is a red flag, a warning of a singer with an overly emotional disposition. Underneath the folk LP’s cheesy name, Mike Midwestern writes easygoing summertime anthems alongside some average ballads.

“Costumes and Covers” feels the most upbeat among the gentle, sparse melodies of the rest of the album. Cunningham attributes the record’s mild tone to the birth of his new daughter.

“I’d come up with the melodies and sing to her as I was rocking her — it was a really chill setting when I was writing this stuff,” he said.

While that means he’s a long way from Green Day’s boredom-fueled lament about masturbation on “Longview,” Cunningham’s kept the genre’s DIY spirit alive, recording “Oh My Soul” with friend Andy Keech on a tape housed in an old reel-to-reel.

Compared to his first solo release, 2010’s “Inhibitors,” the new material is stripped down to skeletal melodies. Most of the songs bleed together without much consequence — the lullabies drift in and out without any Rancid-era punk edge.

But Cunningham said the minimal arrangements gave him a chance to hone his live performance.

“I want to make sure that it translates to a live setting, that it’s not just a bunch of instruments missing when you’re seeing me,” he said.

Cunningham’s self-important singer-songwriter syndrome takes a hold of the acoustic ballads of “Oh My Soul,” and the confessionals mostly fall flat. On “Higher” and “Like Silver,” he relies on hackneyed clichés even Dave Matthews would wince at.

Cunningham said the inspiration for his lyrics stems from “life events” and “stuff you talk with your therapist about” — he’s not exactly reinventing the wheel here, but if you can get past some of the sentimental schlock, he’s a gifted pop songwriter.

Mike Midwestern’s talent lies in his past projects. His Ramones-esque punk band Suburban Core dissolved in the late 1990s and paved the way for his solo career. Before “Oh My Soul,” he even planned on reviving that time in his career — he formed a new pop-punk outfit that only lasted nine months.

“We were going to record the EP right before my second daughter was born,” he said. “We weren’t all on the same page.”

Parenthood does give lyrical maturity to his solo album, but leaving behind pop-punk means “Oh My Soul” mostly feels lifeless.



What: Mike Midwestern CD Release with Party House and Bora York
Where: Honey, 205 E. Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
Cost: $5