Listen Up! February New Music

Blackstar Cover Art

For those of you not looking for another Bowie reflection/review, TL;DR, skip to the list at the bottom. For those of you who are into it, read on.

January was a tough time for many music fans, with the loss of some pretty legendary names. For me, it was the death of David Bowie that hit hardest. I can’t claim to have been a Bowie superfan, but his music was ever-present in my youth, and became the soundtrack to a lot of great memories as I grew into adulthood. Beyond liking the music Bowie created, I was even more fascinated by his ability to constantly reinvent himself, turning life into performance art. Nothing exposes the depth of this artistry better than the way he orchestrated his final months, turning his death into a powerful statement on 21st Century privacy, lifelong creativity, and going on your own terms.

The result of this period was Blackstar (officially ), David Bowie’s final album, released on the artist’s 69th birthday, just two days before his death. I will never forget the shock I felt upon hearing of Bowie’s death just days after celebrating this latest release. What a surreal experience it was to go back and re-listen to the album within the confines of a completely different context. Lyrics took on haunting new meanings; music videos became more somber and stirring. The Thin White Duke was saying goodbye; we just weren’t listening.

This album would have been a great listen without the backstory, but knowing all the details and the way they were carefully crafted and presented just makes Blackstar the stuff of legend. It made me think a long while about my own mortality and wonder how I would choose to confront it: with careful plans and aggressive strides to make sure I left my loved ones with something lasting and memorable, or with fear and denial until my final moments. David Bowie’s last act showed us that it was possible to die with courage, dignity, and a flair for the dramatic. As he so eloquently said from the stage on his 50th birthday “I have no idea where I’m going from here, but I promise I won’t bore you” – I’m sure that even after his death, the legacy of David Bowie will continue to intrigue and entertain us for years to come.

That’s the long story of one of my new arrival picks, so I’ll just give you a list of brief highlights for the rest. Place your holds now! In the case of Blackstar, it might be a little bit, but it’s worth the wait.

Blackbird cover imageMiloš Karadaglić – Blackbird: The Beatles Album (Mercury Classics) – love the Beatles? Like classical guitar? This is the album for you.

Outskirts Cover ImageShemekia Copeland – Outskirts of Love (Alligator Records) – A fiery, driving mix of blues, rock, and soul. It’s the type of album you want to listen to on repeat.

For One to Love CoverCecile McLorin Salvant – For One to Love (Mack Avenue Records) – Delightful follow up to Salvant’s 2013 Grammy-nominated album, WomanChild. This 26-year-old jazz virtuoso has a phenomenal voice and a load of creativity.

Image from wondem.bandcamp.com

Image from wondem.bandcamp.com

Dexter Story – Wondem (Soundway) – For listeners looking to try a little of everything, look no further. Story effortlessly blends funk, jazz, soul, and traditional East African instrumentation and vocals to create vibrant and hypnotic soundscapes.

Cool Uncle CoverCool Uncle – Cool Uncle (Fresh Young Minds) – What happens when smooth jazz icon Bobby Caldwell gets together with Grammy-winning producer Jack Splash (Kendrick Lamar, John Legend, Jennifer Hudson)? Well they make beautiful music, of course, and they have a great time doing it. This is largely a pop/funk/RnB record, with playful nods towards the worlds of smooth jazz and even yacht rock. It may sound borderline cheesy, but it’s the kind of cheese you could fall in love with. It’s great to see people with this level of talent having fun with their craft.

Listen up! January New Music

gun outfit cover

Happy New Year, followers! This one is going to be short but sweet since it’s made up of music that came in late in December, after my last post. Here are some albums that I particularly enjoyed:

Gun Outfit – Dream All Over (Paradise of Bachelors) – Down-tempo indie rock with heavy country, folk, and psych rock influences. You’re got sitars mixing with slide guitars, but somehow it works. The vibe and vocals sort of remind me of Stereolab with a twang.

yacht cover artYacht – I Thought the Future Would be Cooler (Downtown Records) – Upbeat, poppy, and a little edgy. Sci-fi parody songs take the listener through the future we were promised, and hints at the shortcomings of the present we inhabit.

Angie Stone cover artAngie Stone – Dream (Shanachie; Conjunction Entertainment; Top Notch Music) – Veteran RnB songstress Angie Stone is back with her seventh studio release. Listeners are treated to Stone’s well-honed vocal stylings, which are given plenty of room to breathe with minimal production. This is a wonderful album for a lazy Sunday morning with a cup of coffee and a leisurely breakfast.

Rival Consoles art

Image from Pitchfork.com

Rival Consoles – Howl (Erased Tapes Records) – A minimal, driving, constantly-evolving blend of techno and electro, yet somehow this album feels a bit like rock. Ryan Lee West doesn’t limit himself to the current computer arsenal of electronic music production, but plays freely with guitars, cellos, film projectors, and analog synths. The resulting sound is complex and intriguing.

Place your holds now!

Listen Up! December Wrap-up and New Music Arrivals

Petite Noir Cover

December is here and I’m catching my breath. It’s been a long busy year at the library, and I’ve had a blast working with our music collection. It’s been amazing to see how the unique character of our community influences the music that passes through our doors. Our users help determine what makes it to our shelves via donations, purchase requests, or simply checking certain items out more than others so we know what they like.

Some casual observations: Rock, Country, Latin, and Christian music do a booming business. Hip-hop and Electronic acts are steadily gaining in popularity; there are rarely any purchase requests (hint hint), but the stuff that’s been added goes out quickly and those shelves can look completely ransacked at times. People around here love reggae and Hawaiian music (I think all the rain makes people long for warm sandy beaches). Everett also can’t seem to get enough holiday music – the carts have been out since just past Halloween because people kept asking about them.

One issue that I’ve noticed is that some genres are becoming more difficult to purchase due to changes in technology. Within the Indie, Electronic, and Hip-hop communities, many artists are choosing to go digital-only, or to scrap the use of CDs for throwback media, such as vinyl records and cassette tapes (I’m waiting on the 8-track and wax cylinder revivals). This came into play while working on developing the Local Music collection, because many bands only had digital releases of their albums. The digital-only trend is also a big hurdle for libraries when it comes to adding music from international artists making music in developing countries. Digital releases are far cheaper to produce, market, and distribute, so they’re a natural fit for musicians who are working with a tight budget. There are online services available that allow libraries to loan digital music. They wouldn’t do much to remedy this issue, however, since they mainly provide pre-selected packages of albums from major labels. Hopefully this is something that will change in the near future, because there’s a lot of great music out there that we’d love to share with our users.

I’m looking forward to seeing what 2016 brings to Everett. We’re a vibrant city with a lot of creative people and a thriving musical scene. You can help be a part of that growth: if you hear of a great new act, local or otherwise, drop our reference librarians a line and we’ll see what we can do. Now on to those December picks (I’ll keep it short!).

Empress Of CoverEmpress Of – Me (Terrible Records) – A lively combination of dance, pop, and rock, very reminiscent of Bjork’s early material. Lorely Rodriguez’s voice somehow manages to be strong and ethereal almost in the same breath. Her lyrics are deeply personal and rich in storytelling, flitting through scenes of a failed romance while making you want to dance away her angst.

Petite Noir – La Vie Est Belle (Domino Recording Company) – Bright, beautiful, and insanely catchy. Yannick Ilunga calls his sound Noirwave, and you can definitely see his New Wave influences winding through, track by track. In the end, the album really defies description. New wave, hip hop, electronic, or rock, plus subtle hints of Ilunga’s Congolese and Angolan musical roots – each element fuses together into a satisfyingly-complex new sound.

Car Seat Headrest coverCar Seat Headrest – Teens of Style (Matador Records) – After releasing an impressive 15 albums on the indie music selling site Bandcamp, former solo-artist Will Toledo and his band have come out with their first album on the legendary Matador Records. Did I mention that he managed all this before turning 23? Bright, airy, and guitar-driven, I expect to hear more wonderful things from this band in their 2016 release, Teens of Denial.

Future Shock – Secret Weapon EP (Future Shock) – Continuing on the new wave tip, this mysteriously-masked Seattle Duo calls their sound Afro New Wave. With production by RayGun and lyrics by The Doctor, this EP comes across sounding like David Bowie, Marilyn Manson, and Duran Duran got together and laid down some tracks. From start to finish the Secret Weapon EP is a solid album that leaves you looking for more.

Protomartyr CoverProtomartyr – Agent Intellect (Hardly Art) Dark, brooding, driving post-punk. This album sounds like a grey winter day – perfect for your winter angst.

Roots Manuva – Bleeds (Big Dada) U.K. hip-hop pioneer returns with his first release in nearly four years. Stripped-down, tight production showcases the kind of political lyricism I’ve come to expect from Roots Manuva.

Basement Jaxx – Junto Remixed (Pias America) A full roster of clubby, dancefloor-ready tracks. The vibe of this release is about 50/50 house and techno, but there’s a little flirtation with footwork in there. Overall it’s a really versatile collection of remixes.

Place your holds now, and see you in the new year!

Listen Up! New Music Arrivals for November

Pentatonix

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!