Band Books Week

Just last night I was thinking how indescribably important music is to me. I started playing organ at age 4, then guitar, viola, trumpet, French horn, mandolin. And along the way I began composing and studied this in college for some 12 years. I’ve played in various rock bands since the early 80’s, currently play in two. Music is the thing that keeps me going. So imagine my joy to hear about an entire week celebrating books about bands:  Band Book Week. Here are but a few of the titles available at Everett Public Library. Bands 1-3 Motley Crüe: The Dirt
Cockroaches, rats, piles of beer cans, Tommy Lee and the boys, alcohol, drugs, music and girls. Everything one could want in a heavy metal band biography.

Jonas Brothers: A Big Buddy Book
Embarrassed to admit that you’re still in love with Kevin, Joe, and Nick? Well my friend, you are not alone. This book is aimed at the younger crowd but will certainly satisfy those more mature Jonas fans as well. The pages are Burnin’ Up with interesting tidbits, so read it Tonight. No need to be Paranoid, just wait A Little Bit Longer and the Jonas juggernaut will come to you!

Fifty Sides of the Beach Boys
Is there anyone who doesn’t love the Beach Boys? No, there is not. This book looks at 50 songs by the seminal California surfer band. As well as the band’s history, its influence on current artists and culture is examined.

Bands 4-6 The Experience: Jimi Hendrix at Mason’s Yard
In Seattle we claim him as our own. No one else has ever played guitar like Jimi, probably no one ever will. Here we find photos from 1967 of Jimi and the lads at the height of their experience, perhaps the finest ever taken. This book is worth a look for any fan.

I and I: Bob Marley
Poems and paintings bring Bob Marley’s biography to life in this children’s book. Some of the Jamaican terminology might prove incomprehensible, but this beautiful book is well worth a look.

The Clash
At the front of the punk rock movement, and then careening around a hairpin turn to create London Calling, considered by many one of the greatest rock albums ever. While many punk groups demonstrated little intelligence or creativity, the Clash brought reggae into their first album, featured thoughtful lyrics, and crafted clever and enjoyable songs. This book is created by the band and includes materials previously unavailable for publication. If you don’t know The Clash, take advantage of this chance to meet them. Bands 7-9U2 by U2
Whenever I think of U2, I recall a Ben Stiller skit where he portrayed Bono saying, “I’m not actually a god, I just play one on TV.” And while the band has become a frequent target of parody, there is no denying their impressive success. I discovered the lads with their first album, Boys, and this remains my favorite, but the remainder of their catalogue reads like a world’s greatest hits list. So read about their origins and rise to fame, praise them, mock them and perhaps learn, like Bono, to be a god.

Hey Ho Let’s Go: The Story of the Ramones
Much to my eternal surprise, this former underground American punk band has grown to be an American icon. Their songs are frequently heard on television commercials and myriad bands imitate their style and cover their songs. This is the no-holds-barred story of the Ramones, filled with bad decisions, in-fighting, drugs, and bad health. Gabba gabba hey, read this one today!

Radiohead and Philosophy:  Fitter Happier More Deductive
I have to admit, Radiohead came into their own sometime after I stopped listening to new bands on a regular basis. So I’ve never thoroughly absorbed their oeuvre. However, I know them to be a creative, innovative band. This heavy-hitting book looks at the influence of big-time philosophers on the band.

Yes indeed, I do love music, so…. What? What do you mean it’s not really Band Books Week? I gotta check this out, dear Reader. I’ll get back to you.

Return of the Grateful Undead

We’ve all seen the sad and scary headlines:

NOW PLAYING AT THE EMERALD QUEEN CASINO, *FILL IN A ONE-HIT-WONDER FROM 20 YEARS AGO*!

Then again, perhaps it isn’t a sad situation; after all, the musicians are doing what they love and making a living at it. But all too often, ahem, mature bands don’t have much gas left in the proverbial tank and their performances, well, tank.

Even scarier is the band that you loved oh-so-many-years-ago coming out with a new album. This is seldom a happy experience. Talents wane, song selection weakens and the rivers of time leave former superstars in stagnant, putrid tributaries.

The reason for this tirade is that a surprising number of bands I listened to 20-30 years ago are now touring and/or making new albums. My automatic reaction upon hearing this is a violent shudder. But much to my surprise, I am discovering some excellent albums being made by these old-timers (i.e. my peers).

OMD EnglishOne case in point is English Electric by synth-pop pioneers Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. I came to know OMD in 1980 with the release of their second album, Organisation. It contains perhaps their best known song, Enola Gay, a catchy foot tapper about dropping the bomb on Hiroshima. I was struck by the song’s beauty, the bittersweet lyrics, and the metamorphosis of a grim topic into a happy dance song. The remainder of the album is highly atmospheric, what some might think of as soundtrack material. As their career progressed, OMD’s music became less ethereal and more dance-oriented and I kind of stopped paying attention.

So now it’s 2014, I discover that OMD released a new album in 2010 called History of Modern, I give it a listen (expecting the worst) and I’m sorta blown away. English Electric continues in the same positive vein. OMD is one band that after a long layoff sounds as good as, or better than, ever.

Adam Ant coversAdam and the Ants (or Adam Ant after he dropped the backing band) had a bunch of catchy hits in the early and mid-80s. His seemingly final album, Wonderful, was released in 1995. But 2013 saw the release of Adam Ant is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner’s Daughter. This new album is not as strong as his best work, but for someone who is nearly 60 and has lead a difficult life (being bi-polar and dealing with the effects of medications), his voice is still strong as ever. In Adam’s case, perhaps it’s just nice to see him still trying in the face of adversity.

Pixies coversThe Pixies came on the scene in 1986 with a vengeance, oft-screamed vocals and wild-fuzz guitar intermixed with lovely pure pop ditties. The group stayed together until 1993 with their final album coming in 1991. Although they regrouped in 2004, the band did not release another album until this month, Indie Cindy. It’s a bit kinder and gentler than the Pixies of old, but this is all relative as they still deliver a bundle of whopping hard-edged fun.

Other artists to look for

The Cars broke up in 1988 and reformed in 2010. They released Move Like This in 2011, which went to #7 on the Billboard charts. If you like early Cars albums, you should like this one as well.

JoaCars coversJoan Jett, although never taking a break from performing, had not released an album in seven years until delivering Unvarnished in 2013. This is hard-rocking music, a return to form for Joan and the Blackhearts.

Kate Jett coversKate Bush has continued to release albums over the years, but her last (and only) tour was in 1979. She is finally returning to touring in 2014.

Bush covers

Other new releases that will be appearing in the EPL collection soon:

Devo somethingSomething for Everybody (2010) by Devo. Their first album since 1990 shows a return to this band’s golden days.

 

 

 

Presidents KudosKudos to You! (2014) by The Presidents of the United States of America, their first album since 2008.

 

 

And yet even more new releases worth pursuing:

Ultravox brilliantBrilliant (2012) by Ultravox, their first release since 1994.

 

 

 

 

Magazine NoNo Thyself (2011) by Magazine. This brilliant release is their first since 1981!

 

 

 

Pulp Rock

Once upon a time various musical genres – blues, country, honkytonk, western swing and others – amalgamated into an exciting new sound called rock and roll. The music was edgy, full of vim and vigor, and never boring. As time moved on, corporate lackeys watered down the rock and roll to appeal to a wider fan base and generate taller stacks of money. Later still, rock evolved into a highly orchestrated, squeaky clean entity, in the process losing its edge and becoming, dare I say, boring. Until roughly 1975 when bands such as The Ramones re-introduced the idea of some mates getting together, picking up instruments, throwing together a few chords, and creating exciting sonic art.

However, today’s blog is about pulp fiction. So place your seats in a reclined position as we journey from music, through a metaphorical slipstream, and ultimately land in the works of John D. MacDonald.

Rocket to RussiaThe Ramones, Richard Hell, Dead Boys and others emerged, in great contrast to the highly-produced sounds of Yes and ELP. Gone was the boredom of album-oriented-rock. A new frenzy of emotion leapt from these bands’ ineptitudes, and it became apparent that a satisfying thrill could be obtained listening to music filled with uncertainty; uncertainty if the band would land together on beat one, if the bass player would actually make it through a run, if the blazing guitarist would manage to finish his solo before the vocalist came back in. This was excitement! Disaster might rear its head at any moment, and this created a riveting listening experience.

Exit music, enter literature. There was a time when pulp authors would pump out prose at an alarming rate. The result was similar to my beloved rock and roll: a disaster lay lurking behind every corner. Due to the speed with which they worked, quality within a single book could vary significantly. When prose was bad it was quite bad, but when it was good it was amazing.

And this takes us to John D. MacDonald. He wrote thrillers, what one might loosely think of as private detective stories, often set in Florida, often featuring Travis McGee, a salvage consultant who finds missing things for money. McGee’s character is quite different from the typical private eye, although the morose life-view which permeates the PI genre is an integral part of his persona. What sets MacDonald’s stories apart are, mixed among the mundane and sometimes poorly-written prose, stunning observations presented in vivid wordsmithery.

So rather than reviewing titles or describing plots, I leave you with excerpts that reveal the essence of MacDonald’s writing style.

  • “We were about to give up and call it a night when somebody threw the girl off the bridge.” – from Darker Than Amber
  • “Good old Meyer. He can put a fly into any kind of ointment, a mouse in every birthday cake, a cloud over every picnic. Not out of spite. Not out of contrition or messianic zeal. But out of a happy, single-minded pursuit of truth. He is not to blame that the truth seems to have the smell of decay and an acrid taste these days. He points out that forty thousand particles per cubic centimeter of air over Miami is now called a clear day. He is not complaining about particulate matter. He is merely bemused by the change in standards.” – from The Scarlet Ruse
  • “It is strange how a man, totally naked, feels a little more vulnerable. It seems to be a distraction, an extra area to guard. Cloth is not armor, yet that symbolic protection makes one feel at once a little more logical and competent. Doubtless the hermit crab is filled the strange anxieties during those few moments when, having outgrown one borrowed shell, he locates another and, having sized it carefully with his claws, extracts himself from the old home and inserts himself into the new. The very first evidence of clothing in prehistory is the breechcloth for the male.” – from The Scarlet Ruse
  • “The only thing that prisons demonstrably cure is heterosexuality.” – from The Long Lavender Look
  • “He had detected a certain sensitivity, a capacity for imagination, in the girl in New York. But the years and the roads, the bars and the cars and the beds and the bottles—they all have flinty edges, and they are the cruel upholstery in the dark tunnel down which the soul rolls and tumbles until no more abrasion is possible, until the ultimate hardness is achieved. So here she sat, having achieved the bland defensive heartiness of a ten–dollar whore.” – from Slam the Big Door

coversSo climb aboard the non-stop express to MacDonald’s melancholic, intoxicating world. And while you’re there, give Rocket to Russia a spin.

Family Albums

Image of blogger's mother, Judy, as a little girl in cowgirl attireJanuary 25th marks one year since we unexpectedly lost Mom to a heart attack. The news of her death brought on a series of trips back to Chicago to help my family go through her things and tie up loose ends. In the quiet hours of the night, generally my time because I’m a bit of an insomniac, I went through her CD collection. I added nearly everything to my iTunes because I’d never be able to lug it all back on the plane. Nevertheless, I’d decided I wanted to get to know a side of Mom I never really knew.

In our house, Mom’s music was always dominated by my music, my brother’s or Dad’s; he’d never been able to handle yodeling folk singers or wailing female vocalists, so she mostly listened to them in private. My brother and I, being teens, always hijacked the car radio, so that venue was out-of-bounds too. Needless to say, it was an eye-opener when I started ‘letting’ Mom control the radio when I became an adult, and got to know a bit more about what she liked. Here’s a selection of what I found in her collection – new-found loves from an old one.

Cover image for Joan Baez Bowery SongsJoan Baez
Enter Public Enemy Number One from my childhood. There were always Joan Baez jokes in the house, yet I never got to hear her and what the fuss was all about. Despite all that, she was one of Mom’s favorite singers. One of the best memories I have of the last couple years with Mom was taking her to a Joan Baez concert and seeing her sing along with every single song – a whole catalog I’d never heard before. It must be genetic, because now I love her too.

Buffy Sainte-Marie
Public Enemy Number Two. I’ve made up for lost time with Buffy. I’m completely drawn in by her raw emotion and powerful subject matter.

Cover image from Carole King TapestryCarole King
Bluesy, uplifting, and such an incredible voice. King is the kind of vocalist I’m a little surprised I didn’t come to all on my own.

Aaliyah
Mom discovered Aaliyah through her fervent love for Jackie Chan. After seeing the 2000 film Romeo Must Die, in which Chan co-starred with Aaliyah, Mom went out and bought all the Aaliyah she could find. Other than liking my Fugees and Lauryn Hill albums, this was about as far as Mom got into hip hop and RNB.

Cover image from The Wailers Burnin'Bob Marley
Aside from owning a copy of Legend, which seemed to be standard issue for college students, I never paid much attention to Bob Marley. Mom, on the other hand, loved him. It was a running joke that I had stolen one or more of Mom’s Marley albums because she’d always misplace them. My copies of Bjork, Beastie Boys, Beck, and Fugazi albums tended to mysteriously wind up in her CD booklets, but that’s neither here nor there. I still maintain my innocence in the matter of wandering Bob Marley, though I’ve been enjoying the albums I added to my iTunes.

Cover image from Woody Guthrie Dust Bowl BalladsWoody Guthrie
Twangy hobo ballads and stirring protest songs: they fit right into my new life out West. It’s nice to see how these songs follow the narrative of the region I chose to move to, and make me think of Mom’s past as a student activist.

These are just a sample of the wealth of new music I inherited from Mom. It’s been reassuring to quickly feel a connection with the artists that Mom listened to in her free time. Even if these artists weren’t a presence in my childhood, there is something there that is deeper than familiarity – somehow these artists are family.

The Best Music of 2013

Looking for the best music of 2013? Look no further than these staff recommendations!

Ron’s picks
What do we know about Elvis Costello, one of my favorite performers for nearly 35 years?

  • He is not a famous ice skater (that would be Elvis Stojko) nor the King of Rock and Roll (Elvis Presley).
  • He has recorded more than 20 albums in a wide range of styles.
  • While primarily known as a songwriter, he is also an amazing vocalist and a pretty fair guitarist.

Wise up GhostOver the years EC has recorded albums with The Attractions, The Impostors, and as a solo artist. His latest album, Wise Up Ghost and Other Songs, teams Elvis with well-known hip-hop band The Roots in a potentially radical genre- bending mixture. The resulting songs have a definite Costello flavor, but with a hint of funk that is absent from his catalog. It’s a unique blend, shored up by career-best vocals. Check this out, along with a few of my other faves of 2013:

Album covers Ron

Zac’s picks
The words “classical music” make me cringe. The term comes off as stuffy, and it reeks of dead male composers’ works that have been sewn into the background of all the films and television programs I’ve seen since I was a kid. However, under the right circumstances, I have enjoyed traditional classical music, but only to a point. Let’s just say it would be disingenuous for me to claim I’ve ever fired up Beethoven or Copland on my smartphone or home stereo. Despite my general “meh” attitude to the classical genre, Sarah Neufeld’s Hero Brother somehow crept its way into my earbuds this year.

Hero BrotherI was previously familiar with Neufeld via her affiliation with Arcade Fire, a band you can find on my “recently played” list. While the Arcade Fire connection compelled me to give Hero Brother a try, it’s the album’s unique sound engineering that makes the title stand out and kept me coming back. Recorded in parking lots, caves, and other unique locations, the album has a self-contradicting, haunting sound. The recording comes off with the lo-fi feel of older Black Keys albums while retaining clarity present in the production of Arcade Fire’s newer works. The end result is a well-polished rough-cut album worthy of a listen by classical music buffs and naysayers alike.

Other Bests of 2013:

Album covers Zac


Lisa’s picks
Sing to the moon
My appreciation for this album probably has as much to do with timing as it does with overall sound. A couple days ago I came across the NPR staff’s 50 favorite albums of 2013 and I decided to do some listening (you’ll see more of their picks on my list). My attention was immediately grabbed by the featured track from Laura Mvula’s debut album, Sing to the Moon, “Green Garden”. Strong vocals, toe-tapping beat, and massive amounts of sound; what more could I ask for? Thankfully the album was on the shelves at the EPL, so I wasted no time in discovering that the rest of the album had more of the same to offer.

If my brain was Pandora, and I clicked the ‘Why this track?’ feature for the track listing for Sing to the Moon, I think it would tell me the following:

“We chose this entire album because you love alternative music with orchestral accompaniment (see Bjork – Homogenic, and Portishead – Roseland NYC Live albums); really enjoy vocalists with a unique sound and deeper register such as Lauryn Hill, Bebel Gilberto, and Carmen McRae; and on a subliminal level you’ve been craving music that sounds vaguely-Christmassy that isn’t Christmas music.”

OK, that last reason sounds odd, but it’s undeniably something that I find amusing about this album. In a way the chimes, bells, and ethereal backup singing in Mvula’s tracks evoke the same feeling of wonder and joy that Christmas music can evoke, yet they don’t share the same baggage that overplayed seasonal music can carry. All that being said, this album fills a niche left open by my annual boycott of Christmas music stations, and will continue to sound good to me throughout the year.

Other 2013 favorites:

Album covers Lisa


Carol’s picks
Daft Punk
I’ve been in love with Daft Punk for almost 20 years. In that time they have created a number of songs that to this day still float through my mind on a random basis. Right at this moment, for instance, I’m tapping my toes to “Around the World.” This year the electronic duo created a new album, Random Access Memories, which has more of an R&B/pop feel to it. Dedicated Daft Punk fans: do not despair! This actually works out pretty well. They went a little more mainstream and as a result it’s more likely you will hear them on the radio, on TV, or out in public. Don’t be a music snob. Embrace your new musical brothers and sisters as they get on board the Daft Punk bandwagon. And if their popularity eventually wanes, it’ll leave more for you and me.

Because one good thing deserves another, I thought I should mention another great album that “dropped” this year, as the kids say. Capital Cities released In a Tidal Wave of Mystery, and I haven’t been able to stop listening to it. The biggest hit so far has definitely been “Safe and Sound,” whose lyrics contain the album title. But look past the pop charts and feast your ears on guitar that harkens back to the previously mentioned R&B-style Daft Punk. “Kangaroo Court” is catchy enough to make anyone an instant fan, and keep you moving through a workout or just cooking dinner. My favorite, though, has got to be “Farrah Fawcett Hair” for this lyric alone:

I like it when it rains at night and I’m curled up in bed with a good book.

Other CDs I’ve loved so much I’ve purchased them (and listened to them nonstop) in 2013:

Album covers Carol

Stay tuned (get it, tuned?) for the best music of 2014, coming to your bandwidth soon!

A Northwest Look at Decibel Festival

THEESatisfaction awE naturalE coverIt’s hard for me to think of many positive things to say about summer coming to a close. Our daylight hours are shrinking, and soon temperatures will be dropping alongside them. I might completely write September off as the unwelcome and unloved messenger of Fall if its reputation wasn’t saved for me by Decibel Festival. For the uninitiated, Decibel is a 5-day (9/25-29) international multimedia event in Seattle that attracts some of the top names in electronic music. While there are film, art, and educational events during the festival, my focus is generally on the music. During the course of the festival, 130+ artists will flock to Seattle from 20 different countries to play a full roster of shows. I’m happy to say that the EPL has a good selection of albums produced by the artists who will be participating: from those who have traveled thousands of miles, to those who call the Pacific Northwest home.

Shabazz Palaces album coverBecause much of the hype tends to surround the out-of-town artists, I’d like to highlight some of the local talent that is being showcased at this month’s event. To make life easier, the library created a SoundCloud account that follows local bands, producers and DJs that may not have CD releases available to be added into our collections. You can check out what’s new on our stream here. The most recent posts in our stream are local Decibel artists. (Plug: if you’re a local band or producer who would like to be followed by us, let us know in the comments section or add us on SoundCloud).

Back to the matter at hand! My Northwest quick picks for the Decibel are all over the place stylistically:

Hailing from Seattle, THEESatisfaction defies any single genre classification. In their own words, this duo creates “funk-psychedelic feminista sci-fi epics with the warmth and depth of Black Jazz and Sunday morning soul, frosted with icy raps that evoke equal parts Elaine Brown, Ursula Rucker and Q-Tip.” This description basically nails it; once you hear their tracks you’ll understand. You can listen to some of their refreshingly-creative jams on their 2012 release awE naturalE. To get a feel for what you might hear at their Decibel showcase, you can check out this short Badu-inspired set on SoundCloud:

Ghost Feet, an “electro-acoustic” duo from Olympia, has been producing catchy, dancy atmospheric tracks (yes, that’s possible) since 2010. For those who shy away from electronic music because they feel it lacks ‘real’ instruments, this may be a good act to catch. Audiences at Ghost Feet shows quickly become immersed in the creative process of the duo, as ethereal guitar melodies are done live on stage and drum patterns evolve. Each track takes the audience along for a ride as different elements come together to create something new to keep bodies moving.

Shabazz Palaces are a Seattle-based hip-hop collective on Sub-Pop. Layered over beats that range from gritty, to smooth, to melodic, to glitchy (and sometimes all the above at the same time), Shabazz Palaces’ lyrics and hooks are engaging and entertaining.Their most recent release, Black Up, did well both locally and nationally, taking the top slot on the Seattle Time’s Local Top 10 of 2011. These tracks are a good fusion for hip-hop fans who are interested in getting into EDM, or EDM fans who want to dip a toe into hip-hop. Genre-blending is a beautiful thing.

My last PNW pick is The Helio Sequence, a band hailing from Portland. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know more about their music; their bright, bold sound reminds me at times of Air or Stereolab. Aside from their original material, their remix work for Shabazz Palaces is well worth a listen (contains adult language). This is another great pick for anyone looking to check out Decibel who might not be up for seeing a DJ set or Live PA. I hope I have the chance to check out their showcase, because I’m sure it’s going to be a lot of fun.

Boat PartyAs for my own plans for Decibel, we’ll be hitting the RA (Resident Advisor) and High & Tight boat parties for starters. Hopefully we have the same fair weather, smooth sailing, and endless beats that we had last year. After that? It’s anyone’s guess. I hope you all take the time to explore Decibel for yourselves, either in person, or through our CD and SoundCloud selections.

When Is an Umbrella Not an Umbrella?

Bum-ber-shoot. Noun.
(1)    Another name for an umbrella.
(2)    An incredible music & arts festival held every Labor Day weekend at Seattle Center.

I have lived in Washington for nearly a decade. In that time, I have attended exactly one day of one Bumbershoot. It was back in 2009, but the memories still live in my soul. I had friends visiting from the Midwest. I left the tickets at home and had to ride the Monorail and two buses home & back, cringing the whole way. We saw Katy Perry, All-American Rejects, Iglu & Hartly, and the Old 97’s. We left when Sheryl Crow came on, partly because she’s from where we’re from and we were inundated with her music ever since she hit it big in 1993. But mostly we left because we were utterly exhausted and didn’t want to miss the late bus back to Snohomish County.

BumberGroup

The author and her fellow concertgoers.

The amount of crazy energy that charges everyone at a music festival is different, to me, than that of just a regular concert. It takes your breath away, keeps fatigue at bay, and gets you excited about almost anything. C’mon! We saw Katy Perry for crying out loud. If we could get excited about her, we knew no one that day could disappoint us.

When Bumbershoot recently announced this year’s music lineup, I knew it was time to hang up my Old Fart Cardigan and put on my Young Punk Tee. I know it’s impossible to see all the acts you want to see at a festival. I know that the comedy tickets (lineup will be announced later this summer) are nearly impossible to score. And I know that before the weekend is over I will be worn out and feeling older than my age suggests I should feel. But it’s so worth it to see, sometimes in very intimate venues, bands that I love and/or respect.

All American RejectsOld 97s

If you’d like to try some bands before the big day(s), here’s a set of tunes from Bumbershoot 2013 artists that you can listen to, for FREE, courtesy of your library.

Are you going? Who are you most excited to see? And the most important question: are we there yet?

Carol