Punk 101

When rock and roll began to coalesce in the 1950s, it was a dangerous music, unsuitable for respectable persons. Over time, the sharp edge of menace grew dull and was replaced by a thin gruel of antiseptic multi-tracking and endless guitar/keyboard/drum solos.

Or something like that.

The point being, popular music was ripe for revolution. Enter punk rock.


There are as many shades of punk as there are of (wait for the semi-literary reference) grey. My first exposure to the music was in the late 70s/early 80s, which is right about when punk was transforming from one thing to another. Early punk, which traces its roots back to the late 60s in the music of The Stooges and MC5, was a clear outgrowth of early rock and roll: three chords, simple songs, repetitive. Perhaps most importantly, it embodied a do-it-yourself revolution. Anyone could pick up an instrument (although drum sets should be left on the floor) and create music. This was a far cry from progressive rock which required instrumental virtuosity. Punk was soon to move to hardcore which was faster, louder, often angry, and to me remote from the roots of rock and roll.


Here’s an interesting fact about me. Well, a fact at any rate. For the past 35 years I’ve been certain that I don’t like punk rock. Oh sure, I’ve seen the Dead Kennedys twice, X, Iggy Pop, and The Clash; I own every Ramones album; Buzzcocks are one of my favorite groups; I played in a punk band… Why Mr. Burger, the answer is evident: Our author is a punk! The truth is, I don’t think of the groups I love as punk. Early 80s hardcore groups like Minor Threat, extremely aggressive and, at least in my mind, unquenchably angry, defined the one and only brand of punk. Anything similar that I liked I thought of as new wave or some other safe label.

But guess what? Punk comes in many flavors.


Any of these bands are a good start for your introduction to punk, but today we’ll look at the amazing debut album of the Dead Kennedys, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables. This San Francisco band remains unique in the world of American punk, featuring musicians who are equally at home playing vicious vitriolic anthems, riffing on jazzy chord progressions or tying Elvis Presley songs to the rooftop rack of a nitro burning dragster. Led by the indescribable Jello Biafra, these four lads exploded on the punk scene in a napalm-encased conflagration of politics, disturbing imagery, humor and top-notch musicianship. Biafra’s voice is immediately recognizable and his performances are steeped in a teapot of dramatics.

Perhaps one of the most endearing qualities of the band is the combination of serious political lyrics and disturbing imagery with happy-go-lucky music. Take this excerpt from Let’s Lynch the Landlord, backed by some of the happiest music you’ll ever hear:

I tell him, “Turn on the water!”
I tell ‘im, “Turn on the heat!”
Tells me, “All you ever do is complain, yeah.”
Then they search the place when I’m not here
But we can, you know we can
Let’s lynch the landlord man

Guitarist East Bay Ray, a clear influence on my own playing, remains one of my favorites. His lines fit the DK’s songs perfectly while taking unexpected wanderings into deep, dark cobweb-obscured corners, corners revealed only by Ray’s brain-tingling, ice-pick-toting guitar licks. Not typical punk guitaristing.

So there you have it, Punk 101. Take a chance and check out one of the library’s offerings. And look for more punk albums to join the collection in the future. If the punks are united, they will never be divided.

Listen Up! New Music Arrivals for November


Fall in love with some of our latest arrivals (see what I did there?).

Pentatonix – Pentatonix (RCA Records) – Sometimes you have to take the word of an enthusiastic teenager to find new music. When one teen patron saw this disc on my desk for review she was so excited that I couldn’t resist giving it a listen. This album is fun and a bit amazing, considering it’s all acapella. Beats are made via vocals, beatboxing, and body percussion, so there were many moments where I had to turn things way up to realize I wasn’t listening to something mechanically produced. Aside from the ‘wow, how did they do that?’ factor, the tracks are refreshingly upbeat and dangerously prone to becoming ear-worms.

City and ColourCity and Colour – If I Should Go Before You (Dine Alone Music) – Sometimes an album shows up when you most need it; that was the case with this one. It came across my desk after a busy, stressful morning, and this set the mellow vibe I needed to get through the afternoon. I think fans of Jeff Buckley and You Me & Apollo would like this release. Think low-key rock with a great vocalist and dreamy guitar jams.

Melanie MartinezMelanie Martinez – Crybaby (Atlantic) – Super-saccharine pop melodies with fun, often eye-brow-raising lyrics. Martinez confronts listeners like a foul-mouthed Lesley Gore. It’s a catchy collection of bubblegum that strays from the usual themes of boys and partying for more challenging subject matter such as modern beauty standards, sexual consent, and mental illness. Sounds like an odd combination? It is, but that’s what makes it stand out.

Andra DayAndra Day – Cheers to the Fall (Warner Bros./Buskin) – Day possesses a beautiful, powerful voice that fills up the room with neo-soul melodies. Her style has hints of doo-wop, soul, and mo-town, with a throwback sound similar to Nikki Jean, Amy Winehouse, and Adele.

Dornik Cover ImageDornik – Dornik (PMR Records) – This self-titled debut album is packed with a full lineup of beautifully-produced slowjams and RnB cuts. Dornik seems to possess the kind of musical perfectionism that helped rocket Michael Jackson and Prince to critical acclaim. His sound is airy, jazzy, and immensely enjoyable.

Banda do Mar Cover ImageBanda do Mar – Banda do Mar – These Latin Grammy nominees have a great ‘bossa nova meets surf rock’ sound. Check them out if you’re in the mood to kick back to some smooth vocals and sleepy melodies.

Daptone IIVarious – Daptone Gold Volume II – A deeply satisfying compilation of hits and deep RnB cuts from Daptone.

Place your holds now!

Best Music of 2015 Part Deux

So little good new music, so much time to listen…. Strike that, reverse it.

album montage deuxI am genuinely surprised at the amount of enjoyable albums coming out in 2015, many by groups that I’ve never heard before. Last month we discovered 6 newly-released ear-tapping recordings and now, to make an even baker’s dozen, we present 6 more in what I like to call: Best Music of 2015 Part Deux.

Hollywood Vampires by Hollywood Vampires
This album features fabulous hard rocking versions of covers, including My Generation, Jeepster and Whole Lotta Love. The band is led by Alice Cooper (yes, that Alice Cooper), Joe Perry (yes…) and Johnny Depp (aye). Individual songs employ many other big name musicians such as Paul McCartney and Joe Walsh. I did not expect this release to be my bottle of pilsner, but these creative versions of beloved songs make my brain tingle in all the right places. 3 stars. Out of 3.

Still by Richard Thompson
Richard Thompson, although not a household name, is certainly one of the greatest guitarists alive. He also writes stunning songs and has a memorable and perfect voice. Rocking for over forty-five years, he puts out another great album with Still. Thompson’s music includes Gaelic influences and a bit of folkishness, but he rocks away as needed. Discover him and then check out his extensive back catalog. 2.5 stars. Out of 3.

Tomorrow is My Turn by Rhiannon Giddens
Rhiannon is the female member of Carolina Chocolate Drops, an old-timey hokum string band. She sports an amazing voice and with this solo album expands genres to include hip-hop, blues, and more. If you like a strong female voice, check this one out. 2.5 stars. Out of 3.

Policy by William Butler
Butler sings/sang/sung for Arcade Fire, who hit their pinnacle a few albums back with Neon Bible. And since I haven’t enjoyed their new stuff so much, I had no expectations for Butler’s solo outing. Quelle surprise! Featuring music that is surprisingly different from Arcade Fire, Butler delivers an enjoyable album that is strong from start to finish. Styles range from good old-fashioned rock and roll to quirky 80s rock, and beyond. Nicely done, Mr. Butler. This is an excellent effort that breaks away from the shadow of an established band and creates a personal voice. 3 stars. Out of 3.

What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World by The Decemberists
A bit more delicate than my typical listening fare, The Decemberists deliver dreamy, subtle indie/folk/rock. This Portland group has averaged one album every 2 years since 2002, so their catalog is already deep and impressive. If you’re looking for a quiet, feel-good experience, you could do worse than What a Terrible World. 2.5 stars. Out of 3.

Glean by They Might Be Giants
Hard to believe these lads have been around since the early 80s. Although their music inhabits a wide variety of styles, TMBG have a distinct sound, largely defined by the lead singer’s unique voice. As usual, songs contain weird weird lyrics, are often strangely child-like and boldly go where one does not expect. If you like past albums, you’ll probably groove to this one as well. 2 stars. Out of 3.

There you have it, a veritable potpourri of aural pleasurefulness. So get ready to drop the needle on that platter and crank the attenuator to twelve and beyond.

Listen Up! New Music Arrivals for October

Black Violin Cover

Grab some hot new albums to warm up your fall nights. These are my top new arrivals for October: place your holds now!

Black Violin – Stereotypes (Classical Crossover) an engaging fusion of classical, hip-hop, funk, and RnB. Thought-provoking lyrics are layered over a rich tapestry of classical arrangements, driven ever forward by an ebb and flow of hip-hop beats. Playful instrumental tracks make the closet dancer in me want to find a choreographer to start planning some routines. This album has so much to offer such a wide spectrum of listeners that I can’t help but love it

Girlpool CoverGirlpool – Before The World Was Big (Wichita Recordings) Rocker duo Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad prove that less is more in their latest release. Before the World was Big manages to be bright, airy, and delightfully ragged around the edges: part punk, part folk. All of this is accomplished with a guitar, bass, and sans drums. Girlpool reminds me just a bit of some of The Breeders’ later material: simple and wonderful.

Apollo Saturday Night CoverVarious – Apollo Saturday Night/Saturday Night at the Uptown (Real Gone Music) This collection is absolutely packed full of classic soul hits from the 1960s. I love the raw energy of the live performances, amped up a notch because you can hear the young crowd wildly screaming and singing along to their favorites. It’s so easy to close your eyes and imagine how much fun it must have been to be on the dance floor at one of these shows.

Julio Bashmore CoverJulio Bashmore – Knockin’ Boots (Sony Music Entertainment) for long-term veterans of the electronic music scene, house music never went away; for the general public there’s a revival of sorts going on right now. Julio Bashmore is one of the happy byproducts of this renewed interest. This album isn’t another rehashing of well-worn stylistic elements to pander to old-school purists;  it pulls from a wide range of electronic music genres to create tracks that are a fresh look at the synthy Warehouse-style house music of the 80s.

Arcs Cover ImageThe Arcs – Yours, Dreamily (Nonesuch Records) A smooth, blues-rock and RnB album that’s hard to pin down. Yours Dreamily is an apt title for the vibe. It meanders its way through psychedelic and trip-hop bursts from track to track, always with gritty reverb-soaked overtones to punch things up a notch.

Best Music of 2015 … So Far

album montageWhile it might seem to some, myself included, that I’ve embarked upon my dotage, I do try to remain current in the music realm. Thus I eagerly await the Beatles reunion tour and wonder what Beethoven’s got cooking. But I jest. So here we are at the ¾ mark for the year and I’ve discovered a bucket full of outstanding albums put out this year. So many, in fact, that this will have to be a two-parter (Will Buck survive Ming’s deathray and carnivorous weasels?) … Well, maybe not a cliffhanger per se.

So, in no particular order, here are some of my favorite albums of 2015 thus far!

Down on Deptford Broadway by Skinny Lister
Skinny Lister’s music features ethereal Celtic folk melodies melding gracefully with rollicking rock and roll. As a reference point think of Dexy’s Midnight Runners at their best, and then think a bit better. These lads and lass, based out of London, have had a fair amount of success since their inception in 2009, and one listen to this album will show you why. 3 stars. Out of 3.

This is The Sonics by The Sonics
This album I’ve already blogged about extensively, so simply buy it, memorize my earlier post and pick your jaw up off the floor. Best album of the year. 3 stars. Out of 3.

No Cities to Love by Sleater-Kinney
Filed under Local Music, these riot grrrls are still putting out an aural assault worthy of a jumbo jet liftoff. Oh, and they write great songs too. Question: What happens when a local punk/indie/riot grrrl band plays together for nearly 20 years? Answer: This album. If you like it edgy and fast, then giddy up and go. 2.5 stars. Out of 3.

So Delicious by Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band
Perhaps my most surprising find of the year, this demon in the rough features a bluesy old-timey group that delivers fun and frivolity and furniture. Without the furniture. Imagine a pig caller shouting the blues while his band of hobgoblins lays down swamp boogaloo pulled from the very depths of hell. If you can imagine this you might want to seek therapy as soon as possible. But Reverend Peyton does bring music from the land of smoky kudzu-infested nights filled with passion, disappointment and whiskey. Check it out and expect to be mesmerized. 3 stars. Out of 3.

It’s Too Late Darling… by Guantanamo Baywatch
It’s very seldom that I find music I’ve never even heard of and get blown away. Enter Guantanamo Baywatch. Granted, my attraction to this album was the band’s name (hey, I’m a superficial guy), but without knowing the genre or anything about the lads and lasses, I discovered a new favorite. And this is one of the beauties of the library, looking into unknown works at no cost to yourself. Expect surf mixed with 50s/60s fun pop/rock. 2.5 stars. Out of 3.

Sundown Over Ghost Town by Eilen Jewell
One of the greatest voices currently putting out music,her gorgeous country music takes you to wide open spaces where the sun sets over hot-baked dirt, followed by crazy nights in crowded honky tonks. 3 stars. Out of 3.

Tune in for more 2015 albums in the near future. And keep your dune buggy off of my lawn, young whippersnapper!

End of Summer New Music Arrivals

The Internet coverSummer was a busy time for new releases and filling some gaps in our collection in regards to older material. Thanks to some excellent requests and donations from the public, we’ve added many Hip-Hop, RnB, Punk, Electronic, and Metal titles that we hope you’ll enjoy. If there was something you couldn’t find in the past, take another look because it may be on our shelves now; if not, reach out and make a request – we do our best to fill them because we want the collection to reflect the unique tastes of our community.

OK, that housekeeping aside, here are some highlights from last month’s new arrivals. The fall release schedule looks pretty exciting as well, so I’m looking forward to more goodies to come.

Four TetFour Tet – Morning/Evening (Text Records: Temporary Residence) – This album is laid out more like a cassette tape of a live PA than an album. Instead of the usual 10-15 songs, this release is divided into two long tracks. The first ‘side’ is a peppy, psychedelic dance party with Indian vibes. The second side was more downtempo and ambient to reflect the ‘night’ theme of the track. I appreciate this interesting take on the LP that seems to be an homage to the genre’s roots in live performance of electronic tracks on synths and drum machines.

Dj Rashad CoverDJ Rashad – Double Cup (Hyperdub)– For those who are not familiar with Footwork, it’s a genre of dance music that originated in Chicago. Tracks are fast and complex – meant to showcase a dancer’s skills as they improvise and adapt to the quickly-changing sonic landscape. One of the biggest names in the genre was the late DJ Rashad; this was his last album released before his untimely passing. In a genre that can be fast-paced and aggressive, Rashad’s sound often took a more atmospheric path, with heavy RnB, jazz, techno, hip-hop, house, and old-school jungle overtones. While these tracks are made to be mixed into DJ sets, Double Cup is a good stand-alone listen from start to finish; showcasing the talent that was lost too soon.

The Internet – Ego Death (Odd Future) – Whether you want to call this neo-soul or just soul, that’s up to you – new or old, this release has plenty of soul to go around. Tracks are a little on the electronic side, with jazzy, funky, harmonizing, dreamy melodies. Singer-songwriter Syd tha Kyd packs this album full of fun and sometimes blush-worthy lyrics taking you through the turmoil of love and sex, like the inner monologue of a turbulent relationship.

Grace Potter coverGrace Potter – Midnight (Hollywood Records) – Grace Potter and the Nocturnals front woman steps out in her first solo release, delving into the oft-maligned world of “pop rock.” This album provides nothing of depth, which is actually its strength. What’s inside is a collection of poppy, sometimes gritty tunes that at times reminds me of an 80s movie soundtrack. Think workout montage before the big day/match/dance meets Britney Spears slightly improved by a rock-and-roll makeover. You might dance, you may break a sweat, and your mood just might improve a little. Still not getting it? Place a hold and find out what I’m talking about.

Lower Dens coverLower Dens – Escape From Evil (Ribbon Music) – Classified as ‘dream pop,’ a genre I’m not familiar with, but who can keep up? I enjoy this album’s throwback sound, which makes me think a little of the Cure and the Talking Heads. This is a synthy, smooth, laid back album with very minimal vocals and a lot of groove. Great for a rainy evening at home as we dip into fall weather.

Sean Davis Jr. CoverSean Davis Jr. – Universes (Ninja Tune) – Another electronic mashup of styles. Downtempo rhythms with a strong funk undercurrent. Minimal vocals, and a bit of sass. There’s a bonus disc of beats that may or may not be of interest to you; kind of atmospheric puttering around, but enjoyable. It’s a Ninja Tune release – it’s hard to go wrong!

Hopefully something here tickles your fancy – place your holds now!

Music For A Lifetime

django-reinhardtThe year: Nineteen-eighty-something. The place: Bellingham. Our protagonist is a handsome young man finishing his studies in music whilst working in the college library. A mile or more from his modest roach-infested home sits the Bellingham Public Library, a bastion of free knowledge. Much to the delight of our hero, the building sports an eclectic vinyl record collection (an ancient form of music media, similar to 8-track tapes) ranging from field recordings of chain gangs to sea chanties of the Hebrides. It is here that he first discovers the music of Django Reinhardt and Bob Wills. And here’s the twist: I was that young man!

It’s true.

Bob WillsSome 30 years later, I still listen to Django Reinhardt and Bob Wills on a semi-daily basis. It’s amazing what an impact these library holdings made on my existence. Throw in Charles Mingus’s Fables of Faubus and Haitian Fight Song and we’ve captured significant musical influences to my later life.

At that time in library collection management, I would wager that audio selection was made to provide people with access to music they’d never find anywhere else (this was before everything imaginable was issued on CD) rather than to provide popular music for listening pleasure. And for me, this was perfect! I loved the Folkways releases of underwater Christmas carols and chants of the Irkutskian mud men. Although I might be misremembering those titles.

When I moved to Everett in 1987, the audio holdings were very similar to those in Bellingham. Perfect! And within a couple of years, a few CDs even joined the collection! It was around this time that music selection processes changed to some extent. Perhaps influenced by the initial lack of offerings on CD, perhaps reflecting a change in library philosophy, popular music entered the library in a big way.

But where I’m going with this ramble is: Bellingham Public Library has influenced my life for over 30 years! I’m so grateful that I was exposed to music that I otherwise did not have access to (no internet, no Pandora, no iTunes, etc). And here at Everett Public Library we try to provide a diverse collection of music that will keep you grateful for the next 30 years.

Wild and woolyOur latest venture is the Local Music collection which currently consists of over 70 titles from a variety of time periods. A good place to start exploring this new collection is the CD Wild and Wooly, a compilation of northwest music stretching from the 50s to the present. Many of its performers might not be familiar names, but they’ve all been essential to the growth of local music. And one of the most important bands found on this album is The Wailers, teenagers (well, they were in the 50s) hailing from Tacoma.

In 1959 The Wailers released the instrumental single Tall Cool One which went on to chart at #36 on the Billboard Hot 100. Other local bands such as the Dave Lewis Trio, The Frantics, The Ventures and The Viceroys (all featured on Wild and Wooly) also focused on instrumentals, joining in The Wailers’ success with hit recordings and sold-out performances. The Wailers’ momentum led to recording an album (The Fabulous Wailers), appearing on American Bandstand and touring the east coast. But there’s no place like home and after returning to the northwest the band started its own record label, Etiquette (which later helped launch The Sonics), and made a ground-breaking recording of Louie, Louie.

And this is just scratching the surface (vinyl humor!) of the amazing Wild and Wooly. Check this one out! Perhaps you’ll find a band or two to put into your life’s playlist for the next 30 years. And stay tuned for more posts on Northwest music.