Devo Was Their Name-O!

Q: I’ve got a rhyme that comes in a riddle. What’s round on the ends and high in the middle?
A: If you answered O-Hi-O, then you win a red energy dome (pictured below). Energy dome hat

 

Coming out of Akron, Ohio (where the rubber meets the road), Devo made a profound impact on the rock music world. Their first full-length album, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, is a veritable smorgasbord of forays into the musical unknown. And while their later albums moved more towards the mainstream, the impact of Are We Not Men? continues to be immense.

But first, a little history. In 1924, B. H. Shadduck published a pamphlet on creationism called Jocko-Homo Heavenbound. This publication coined the term “D-Evolution”. It also contained text and ideas which turn up in the Devo canon. 50 years after its publication, a band of renegade youth in northern Ohio formed a band… Well, you can see where this is going.


Jocko

Starting in the late 1960s, rock music became increasingly slick and, in the minds of some, soulless. Rebellion against this aesthetic is largely what punk and its related genres were all about. Punk, post-punk, new wave, no wave… all looked for ways to take the music back to the people, to make creating music an activity open to one and all. Devo was one of the earliest groups to make the plunge into a new aesthetic.

Enter Are We Not Men?.

Are We

They tell us that we lost our tails
Evolving up from little snails
I say it’s all just wind in sails
Are we not men? We are Devo!

People who talk about music like to use the words tension and release to describe how tonal music moves forward. Tension is created, and then a resolution of that tension creates a moment of peace and relaxation. Devo, however, frequently leaves out the resolution part. Take for example the song Jocko Homo. Most popular music has four beats per measure, so of course Jocko Homo has seven.

Q: But surely the drums, those bastions of stability, provide a measure of comfort?
A: Well, no.

Q: How about if I focus on the vocals, something I can certainly relate to?
A: The lead vocals are hyper-dramatized and the background vocals are robotic, unemotional.

Q: What about those cute synthesizer sounds, seldom used in rock music pre-Devo?
A: The synthesizer brings an even higher level of disturbance to the listener’s comfort.

Q: Are you trying to tell me that there are no resting points, no moments of contentment?
A: Yes. This is what I’m telling you.

I’ll leave this song with my favorite lyric, from a passage that promotes evolution:

God made man but a monkey supplied the glue

Gut Feeling is another song that creates tension through odd numbers, in this case five-measure phrases (four-measure phrases are by far the most common in rock music). A five-chord sequence repeats over and over, each time feeling like it’s one chord too many. There is no respite from this brutal asymmetry.

Something about the way you taste
Makes me want to clear my throat
There’s a method to your movements
That really gets my goat
I looked for silver linings
But you’re rotten to the core
I’ve had just about all I can take
You know I can’t take it no more
I’ve got a gut feeling

At least the guitar and drums behave normally in this song. However, the five-chord pattern goes on forever (so it seems) before vocals enter. And when they do enter, they are once again rather weird. And as the song progresses it becomes more and more chaotic until it breaks into the next song.

Tension.

gut-feeling

Coming in at #442 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, this one is worth checking out. Oh yes. So throw away your preconceptions and postconceptions, relax, and whatever you do, do not Shrivel Up.

Listen Up! Summer Music Wrap-Up

Collage of nine album covers, faded so that they are not as legible. All are covered with the words "Listen Up!" Listen is written in turquoise and up is written in black.

School is back in session and we’re hurtling towards Labor Day; it must be the end of the summer. We’ve had a very busy season for adding new music to our collections here at the Everett Public Library. Hopefully you can find something from these hot picks to provide the soundtrack to your last few BBQs. Place your holds now!

Sza – Ctrl (Top Dawg Entertainment) – Ethereal RnB with acoustic overtones and a little hip hop flavor sprinkled over the top. This album has a lot to offer, and is worth all the buzz it’s been getting.

Cody ChesnuTT – My Love Divine Degree (Handwritten Records) – After taking time out from a successful early music career to raise a family, ChesnuTT is back with an album that sounds like he hasn’t missed a day. His neo-soul sound remains as passionate and eclectic as ever, but there’s a mellowing and deepening of his subject matter that seems to reflect the lessons he’s learned from fatherhood.

Ozomatli – Non-Stop: Mexico to Jamaica (Cleopatra Records) – Sunny Spanish-language reggae. It’s a delightful fusion of sounds that exudes a summer vibe.

TLC – TLC (852 Musiq) – I feel like this is one for the fans. T-Boz and Chili tap into the classically-unique TLC formula to produce an album that brings the listener back to the neon days of Hypercolor shirts and BK kicks. This isn’t to say that this release sounds dated; TLC feels timeless. Bittersweet is the absence of Left Eye, though the album and its liner notes play homage to her memory.

A. Coltrane-TuriyasangitanandaThe Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda  (Luaka Bop) – Recorded in the 80s and 90s in Alice Coltrane’s ashram in Southern California, this compilation pulls highlights from four tapes that were only released in a very limited fashion to members. At the root of these recordings are Hindu devotionals and Indian meditative instrumentals, but Coltrane’s diverse musical background infuses and remixes these traditional elements with jazz, Southern Baptist organ playing, and powerful gospel-inspired vocal styling. The end result is a very moving fusion of a variety of continents and cultures.

Slowdive – Slowdive (Dead Oceans) – Returning after a hiatus that spanned two decades, Slowdive came back with an elemental hit that feels as natural as if they never took a pause. This eponymous dream pop album feels sweet, soothing, and fairly reserved.

Calvin Harris – Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 (Sony Music Entertainment UK Limited) – At times Harris gets dangerously close to over-doing the autotune, a particular pet peeve of mine, but the funkiness of the tracks more than make up for it. I guess that should be expected, given the title. On the whole, this is a light, poppy, star-studded roster of dance-floor-friendly tracks that provided a bit of fuel for many a summer club night.

Offa Rex – The Queen of Hearts (Nonesuch Records) – Ballady folk, with a little psychedelic rock in the mix. The overall sound is very earthy and eclectic.

Shabazz Palaces – Quazarz: vs. the Jealous Machines / Born on a Gangster Star (Sub Pop) – Fans of this Seattle duo got more than they could ask for this summer with this set of companion albums, simultaneously released on the iconic Sub Pop label. The sound throughout is jazzy, avant garde, free-form hip-hop, with brooding minimal production. Both releases share a common theme, following space traveler Quazars as he tries to survive in Amurderca on the dystopian planet of Gangster Star. Through this sci-fi lens the lyrics explore the perils of the Black experience in the United States.

Nu:Logic – Somewhere Between the Light (Hospital Records) – Jazzy, atmospheric drum and bass rollers.

Terrence Parker – GOD Loves Detroit (Planet E) –  Parker’s latest LP combines factors that are clearly of utmost importance to his life: techno and his religious faith. The result is a fusion of techno, gospel-style vocals, Chicago house groove, classic stabbing piano chords, and a little bit of east coast garage to pick up the tempo. Parker said that these tracks were inspired by the ongoing redemption story of the City of Detroit. Once viewed largely as an object of ridicule, within the past decade the city has begun to see a rebirth in many ways. I

Bokanté –Strange Circles (Ground Up Music) – Mix of Delta and West African blues with a 90s RnB sound reminiscent of En Vogue and their contemporaries. Powerful vocals with a variety of individual vocalists taking turns to show all they have to offer, all backed by some ripping guitar riffs and dancy production.

Laurel Halo – Dust (Hyperdub) – at times very minimal and glitchy, with discordant, bright vocals. There’s a little bit of a jazz feel to this album, with heavy use of horns.

X Marks the Spot

LosAngeles

Music is filled with infinite possibilities but musicians use few of them. Hence, a whole lot of music sounds like a whole lot of other music. In some ways, this isn’t a bad thing; listeners take comfort in the familiar. On the other hand, BORING!

But not all composers and performers are boring. Thankfully. Witness if you will the Los Angeles band known only as X. Formed in 1977, one of the first wave of American punk bands, X has forged a unique sound that has yet to be imitated.

For me, the trademark X sound is defined by the harmonies between John Doe and Exene Cervenka. Punk rock generally does not use harmony, and pop/rock in general doesn’t use the semi-dissonant croonings that are part and parcel of X. Take for example the song The World’s a Mess, It’s In My Kiss off of the band’s brilliant debut, Los Angeles. Doe and Cervenka careen between expected and unexpected pitch combinations, creating an extra level of tension that fits the lyrics quite nicely:

No one is united
And all things are untied
Perhaps we’re boiling over inside
They’ve been telling lies
Who’s been telling lies?
There are no angels
There are devils in many ways
Take it like a man

Another piece of the puzzle that is X is found in Billy Zoom, guitarist extraordinaire. You can always find Billy standing on the stage with legs planted far apart, smiling at the audience whilst playing rockabilly-tinged leads effortlessly. Once again, not so much a punk thing. Zoom, whose father played woodwinds in big bands, was 29 when the band formed. He definitely had a different point of view than your average 16-year-old who’d never touched an instrument but wanted to start a punk band. If you want to hear a good example of Billy’s rockabilly roots in the music of X, check out the intro, verse and solo in Johnny Hit and Run Paulene.

Producer and keyboardist Ray Manzarek, formerly of the Doors (yes, those Doors), is also fundamental to X’s sound on Los Angeles. For those not familiar with the Doors, their music doesn’t share much in common with the punk world. Hippy organ fills and aggressive stripped-down rock just do not seem like a match made in rockstar heaven. But the result is fabulous, as can be heard on X’s hyperactive cover of the Door’s Soul Kitchen as well as the relentless punk anthem Nausea:

Today, you’re gonna be sick, so sick
You’ll prop your forehead on the sink,
Say, “Oh Christ, oh Jesus Christ,
My head’s gonna crack like a bank.”

And Nausea finds the organ playing an important role, creating primitive atonal flourishes as the lead-in to verses. Everyone else simply hammers away incessantly, as if to give a pounding headache to the purveyor of the lyrics.

40 years later X continues to tour. Billy is now 69, a cancer survivor, still smiling. John Doe and Exene, married when the group formed, are long since divorced. But the band’s high-octane energy and love for the music still comes through during performances. And if you can’t see them live, check out the documentary The Decline of Western Civilization for a thorough education in the late 70s Los Angeles punk lifestyle.

And be sure to say, “Hi!” to Billy.

And the Librarian Said, “Read This!”

How’s your summer reading challenge coming along? One of this year’s challenges is to read a book recommended by a librarian. Since I know you don’t always have time to chat when you stop in, I asked my colleagues to offer up some suggestions for you.

Dazzling insights, well researched and footnoted, lots to learn, with sparkling prose style, this is one of the best book I’ve read on the subject. Love for Sale: Pop Music in America by David Hajdu covers pop music from the era of song sheets in the late nineteenth century to contemporary digital delivery. Compulsively readable, it works for every level of reader, from a scholar interested in how pop has evolved in content, style, and delivery over the years to those who want to relate to Hajdu’s observation of cultural and personal connections. Highly recommended.
From Alan, Evergreen Branch Manager

If you have a taste for historical fiction, speculative fiction, and are open to reading Young Adult novels, I’ve got a couple books that may be right up your alley. Front Lines is the first book in a new series by Michael Grant about what World War II would have been like if women had been included in the draft. I really enjoyed the character development, and found the plot to be exciting and unique.
I’m waiting eagerly for book 2 to come out, but in the meantime I started another series called Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin. Wolf by Wolf revolves around the idea that the Nazis and Imperial Japan emerged from World War II victorious, and that the United States never became involved. Yael escaped a Nazi medical experiment with an unusual new ability and has joined the resistance. Yael’s assignment is to infiltrate the annual Axis Tour – a motorcycle race that spans Nazi and Imperial Japanese territory – win, and kill Hitler. This book reads like a spy novel and an extended car chase all wrapped up in one.
From Lisa, Northwest History Librarian

Do you love historical fiction? Do you love dragons? How about a series that combines them?? Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series begins with His Majesty’s Dragon, in which Captain Will Laurence is serving in the Royal Navy right in the thick of the Napoleonic Wars. His ship captures a French frigate bearing precious cargo…an unhatched dragon egg. You see, dragons have been domesticated (to the extent that’s even possible) to serve with the Aerial Corps, allowing Aviators to attack from above, dropping bombs and other projectiles onto the ships battling on the high seas. The Pilots – chosen by the dragons and not the other way around – develop tight bonds and steadfast partnerships with the powerful and capricious beasts. When this particular dragon hatches, it chooses Will. This is a problem. A big problem. Will has been in the Navy since boyhood and therefore has no training to be an Aviator, plus he is on the point of becoming engaged, and his new calling renders marriage virtually impossible. His first adventures with Temeraire take them to China and back against the backdrop of a volatile international conflict, and there are nine books to enjoy filled with more exploits and intrigue! I love Jane Austen and fantasy, so this is basically the perfect series for me.
From Sarah, Youth Services Librarian

I first read The Ha-Ha by Dave King in 2005 and recently came across it while browsing the main library’s top-drawer fiction collection. This is a graceful, measured debut both sad and funny. The plot circles round middle-aged Howard, who is unable to speak, read or write due to head injuries suffered in the Vietnam War. He lives in the house he grew up in with an assortment of entertaining boarders and spends his days tending the gardens of a convent. When Sylvia, Howard’s ex-high school girlfriend, heads for rehab, she saddles him with Ryan, her taciturn nine-year-old son. With many heartwarming passages that don’t turn sappy thanks to King’s prosaic writing style, it’s a heckuva ride for both of these quiet souls.
From Joyce, Adult Services Librarian

I couldn’t limit myself to just one, so here are two titles for your listening and reading pleasure this summer. The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey does have the dreaded Z word in it, zombies that is, but there are no maniacal governors or hordes of decaying extras here. Instead you get an intense five person character study set in a ‘post incident’ Britain that keeps you guessing and makes you actually care about who survives and who doesn’t. The ending is also top notch and quite unexpected. I listened to the audio version and the narration was excellent as well. Under Another Sky: Journeys in Roman Britain by Charlotte Higgins is also about an imagined Britain but this one in the past. The author travels the country on foot and in an unreliable VW Camper van visiting what remains of Roman Britain. Admittedly, compared to the European continent the ruins are a tad sparse, but that only adds to the mystery. The result is an intriguing travelogue that is as much about how we create the past as it is about the physical structures themselves.
From Richard, Adult Services Librarian

Do you love fantasy and enjoy resilient female characters, strong family bonds, and fast paced adventures? You should read Prisoner of Ice and Snow by Ruth Lauren! Online, this book is described as equal parts Prison Break and Frozen. I see the resemblance! Valor’s twin sister, Sasha, has been sentenced to life in prison at Tyur’ma for stealing a diplomatically-important item from the royal family. Valor knowingly gets herself sent to this harsh and freezing prison so she can attempt to free them both; never mind that nobody has ever escaped in the 300 year history of this prison!
While it’s true this book is aimed at middle grade readers I’d definitely recommend this for fans of any age who are into The Hunger Games or Princess Academy.
From Andrea, Youth Services Librarian

When taking lunch-time walks in north Everett, I have occasionally seen people’s belongings strewn across front yards, looking abandoned and pathetic. Although I do know that Everett residents are poorer than people living elsewhere in Snohomish County and I have read about the high cost of renting and the scarcity of available affordable units, I knew next to nothing about the eviction process and how it affects the lives of tenants and landlords.
Matthew Desmond’s book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, caught my attention when I was thinking about possible authors for our Everett Reads: Beyond the Streets series. Desmond, a Harvard sociology professor, was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2015 for his work on the impact eviction has on the lives of the urban poor. His research sounded both interesting and relevant.
We couldn’t afford Professor Desmond’s speaker’s fee, but I read the book, and I would encourage you to read it, too. This is no dry sociological study. Rather Desmond uses the stories of real people to introduce the reader to the economics and politics behind eviction—and the consequences suffered by the adults and children who find themselves at the mercy of a process that disrupts lives. Evicted is essential reading for anyone trying to understand the lives of the urban poor and the importance of stable housing.
From Eileen, Library Director

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis by Timothy Egan
I’d recommend this fascinating biography to anyone interested in American history, photography, or Native American cultures. Edward Curtis, a brilliant Seattle photographer, spent decades crisscrossing the country to capture and preserve images and language from the “dying race” of Native Americans in the early 20th century. The book reads like a fast-paced adventure story, and readers travel along to locations as diverse at the Puget Sound, the Great Plains, the Grand Canyon, and even Teddy Roosevelt’s White House. This book did what all great narrative non-fiction does: it kept me enthralled with a strong story and piqued my curiosity about new topics and ideas. It would be a great choice for fans of authors Erik Larson and Gary Krist.
From Mindy, Northwest History Librarian

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain
Bar none, one of the best books about music ever put together. I say “put together” because these are the real words from Iggy Pop, Joey Ramone, Jim Carroll, Malcom McLaren, Danny Fields, and many other artists and impresarios collected and used to define punk by the creator of the legendary Punk Magazine from that era. Comprehensive, you’ll thrill to Punk’s prehistory in the early 70’s (Stooges, Velvet underground) to its late 70’s heyday (Sex Pistols, Clash, Ramones) through to its last gasps in corporate eighties rock. Highest possible recommendation. Bonus: the 20th anniversary edition includes new photos and an afterword by the authors.
From Alan, Evergreen Branch Manager

To recommend a book to you, I would need to know your particular interests, taste, and what you’re in the mood for at the moment. But if you’re stretching yourself by doing our reading challenge anyway, I might as well suggest a challenging book. And I get to take the easy way out by recycling a review I’d written for Alki, the state’s library journal, many years ago.
Nathaniel Mackey is a renowned poet who has also written a sequence of novels called From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate. The review below is for the third book of the series, and you can just as easily start here as at the beginning. These books won’t appeal to every reader, and the library’s copies have gone largely unread, so I challenge you to get off the beaten path and to dive into the extraordinary language of Mackey’s jazz-band world.
Atet A.D. by Nathaniel Mackey
This epistolary novel covers the goings-on in a jazz band immediately following the death of Thelonious Monk in 1982. The language is superbly jazz-like as Mackey riffs and improvises on words and phrases – playfully filling his sentences with homonyms and syntactic variations, and parsing words to find others underneath or contracting them to build new ones. N., the narrator, is a musician and composer in the band, and through his letters we learn of his creative processes and critical insights as he attempts to push boundaries and build upon the works of the jazz greats that have preceded him – especially those from the post-bop and free jazz eras. The band’s musical drive and determination take them, at times, beyond the confines of the everyday world into one that countenances telepathic and metaphysical communication. While some of this certainly strains credulity, Mackey’s linguistic flights compensate as he transforms language into an instrument of amazing semantic agility and linguistic power (a chapter in which the band plays in Seattle has Mackey in peak form). This is not your standard plot-advancing or character-driven novel, but if you like both your jazz and fiction improvisatory, challenging, and playful, this might be right up your alley.
From Scott, Adult Services Librarian

Ever since the New Yorker published an article in 2015 about the long overdue major earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone, I’ve spoken to a lot of patrons at the library who were hoping to learn more. Full Rip 9.0 by Sandi Doughton is the perfect book to learn more about the science behind these dire predictions, as well as how much (or how little) you need to be concerned about this event depending on where you live. More importantly this book helps outline very simple things that you and your family can do to help you ride out the aftermath of a major event, whether it’s Cascadia Subduction Zone related or otherwise.
A very useful book that makes a good companion to Full Rip 9.0 is The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley. Ripley looks into several different kinds of disaster scenarios, from natural disasters to man-made ones, and dissects the steps taken by survivors, and those who perished. While on the outside this might sound like a macabre book, it’s actually pretty reassuring, because it reinforces the importance of planning ahead for the unthinkable so that your instincts are ready to guide you to safety should the need ever arise. Ripley also delves into the psychology of survivors, debunking some common misconceptions about how people react in disaster scenarios, and who may be more likely to fare well.
If these two books whet your appetite to learn more about how to be prepared, I also highly recommend looking into the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training offered periodically for free for Everett residents and workers. Even if you don’t ultimately register to be an emergency response worker, attendees walk away with some very useful information that can be used to prepare their households and neighborhoods.
From Lisa, Northwest History Librarian

So there you have it. Another challenge is in the books! [See what I did there?] Stay tuned over the next several weeks as I bring you more books to help you conquer your summer reading challenges!

It Slices, It Dices, It’s Shonen Knife!

Let's Knife

It’s time to enter the garage. Via Japan.

But first, let me tell you a little story. The year is 1981. In the megalopolis of Osaka, known worldwide for its sake, three young women start a band that’s different from the typical J-pop group. Combining influences from 60s girl groups, garage and punk rock, the trio create a poppy yet punky sound that is unusual in their home country. In less than 10 years they will be hailed by Kurt Cobain and other leaders of the alternative rock scene.

Now it’s 36 years later. And the band plays on.

Osaka Ramones

Shonen Knife is an unusual creature, not really fitting into any convenient niche. Although they are most closely associated with a Ramones-like sound, their poppy and somewhat frail vocals immediately put them in a different category altogether.

(EVERYONE: THEIR POPPY AND SOMEWHAT FRAIL VOCALS IMMEDIATELY PUT THEM IN A DIFFERENT CATEGORY.)

 Er, yes.

Powerpuff

Throughout their career Shonen Knife has delivered their own take on punk, garage rock and 60s pop, creating a unique amalgam. In fact, if there is a Shonen Knife sound, it would be poppy vocals over heavy music. The term pop punk, most often applied to bands that sound like Green Day, is not what I’m talking about here. Pop punk is fast, catchy music with a bit of an edge to the guitars. It’s homogeneous. Shonen Knife combines two sounds that really don’t fit together that well. But, and this is the important bit, they make it work. Recent albums focus on heavy metal (Super Group from 2010, Free Time from 2011), punk (Tribute to the Ramones from 2011), 60s pop (Pop Tunes from 2012) and 70s hard rock (Overdrive from 2014 and Adventure from 2015). Yet they all sound like Shonen Knife.

Lyric content definitely provides some continuity for the group. From early on, songs have focused on food (Sushi Bar, Wasabi, Fortune Cookie), animals (Parrot Polynesia, Bear Up Bison, Like a Cat) and science fiction (Planet X, Riding on the Rocket, Robot from Hell). In fact, it’s safe to say that SK’s lyrics are pretty weak in general. And this is not a criticism! Pop music is built on inane lyrics (There’ll be rainbows reachin’ cross the sky and we’ll both be so happy we will cry from The Monkees song The Day We Fall In Love). It’s practically required that pop music lyrics be absurd!

Overdrive

The 2014 album Overdrive (which was part of the EPL collection until recently) is a good place to start your acquaintance with these ladies. Filled with great hard rock riffs (Green Tea, Shopping), jangly dream rock (Fortune Cookie) and that “typical” Shonen Knife sound (Jet Shot), Overdrive gives an overview (clever wordplay alert!) of the band’s oeuvre. Why, Robot from Hell, a most excellent hard rock tune, is in itself worth the price of checking the album out!

Thirty-six years is a mighty long time for a rock band to successfully exist. Band members have left, been replaced, returned, had babies, quit, got a haircut and returned. They have toured extensively and released 20 albums. And still the music pours out of them.

So if you need a little spring in your step, a little cheer in your soul, get thee behind Shonen Knife. And as you go out into the world today, keep these lyrics from Bad Luck Song close to your heart:

The bad luck song might be my good luck song
This is the best way of thinking
Let’s take it easy
Change the way you’re thinking

Listen Up! July New Music Arrivals

Image showing nine different album covers in a tile-like formation. Album covers are faded out, and there is text superimposed over them that reads "Listen Up! July New Music Arrivals"

Here’s your short list of what’s been pouring through the doors at the Everett Public Library. Place your holds now, and pick up some new tunes to keep your summer moving.

Soulwax – From Deewee (PIAS America) – Infectious, dance-floor-friendly electro full of rich layers. Soulwax accomplishes the delicate balance of maintaining their tried and true sound, honed over two decades, without sounding kitschy and dated.

Faith Evans & Notorious B.I.G. – The King & I (Rhino Records) – Many people have mixed feelings about posthumous ‘collaborations.’ They can seem like a cash grab, and the departed musician’s artistic intentions and vision can never truly be represented. Regardless of these criticisms, this album is worth a listen. The interview clips of Biggie are of interest and Evans as a vocalist is a powerhouse who is clearly pouring love and affection into this project.

Somi – Petite Afrique (Okeh)– Gorgeous vocals, bright melodies, jazzy drumming, and an afrobeat undertone. Somi explores the African-American experience living in Harlem, as well as those of African immigrants blending cultures in the New York City melting pot.

Paramore – After Laughter (Fueled by Ramen) – The latest from Paramore kind of reminds me of classic Sugarcubes with loud vocals, cheery new wave instrumentation, and jarringly-contradictory lyrics, full of angst and anger.

Juana Molina – Halo (Crammed Discs) – Melodic, dancy, mysterious, and playful. I’ve seen this described as “folktronica,” and I think this fits the album nicely. Molina effortlessly merges synths and folk melodies to support a loose narrative based on the Argentinian and Uruguayan myth of the “luz mala” or evil light.

Saint Etienne – Home Counties (Heavenly Recordings) – Upbeat indie rock with lots of harmony and a sense of place very strongly tied to the commuter areas surrounding London. This eclectic album features some dance-floor tracks and sometimes even a little 60s go-go feel.

Harry Styles – Harry Styles (Erskine/Columbia Records)– This is Styles’s debut solo album after leaving the boy band juggernaut that was One Direction. I almost hate to mention his past work in the boy band genre because that may drive some people away from this record. In reality, Styles achieves a beautiful, melancholy mix of tracks that rocks when it needs to. His sound is a little folky with a tendency towards ballads; very minimal but satisfying.

Mali Music – The Transition of Mali (RCA) – Soul, RnB, and little hip hop mixed in. Mali Music has a smooth, sensual sound, with rich, multi-layered vocals. You can’t pin this very versatile album down to one genre; it switches from beats and samples to classical piano melodies and strings.

Roger Waters – Is this the Life we really want? (Columbia) – A moody, gritty, raw offering from the Pink Floyd frontman. Waters remains an unflinchingly critical analyst of modern society and popular culture.

Ani Di Franco – Binary (Righteous Babe Records) – The words that this album brings to mind for me could sound unflattering to someone who may not have ‘come of age’ with Ani playing in the background: comforting, no surprises, reliable. Ani Di Franco is an artist who, while always exploring collaborations with a very wide range of musicians from different styles, has created a signature sound that is unmistakably hers. Binary showcases her unique blend of folk, funk, and rock that lulls you into a groove while at the same time excoriating the shortcomings of the world we live in.

The Secret Sisters – You Don’t Own Me Anymore (New West Records) – Real-life sisters Laura and Lydia Rogers return from a dark period of court battles and bankruptcy to release their third album. Their hard-luck story and abundant musical talent attracted the interest of Brandi Carlile, who produced this latest offering. The result showcases the sister’s songwriting prowess and beautiful ability to harmonize in a mix of sleepy, soulful country and bluegrass sounds.

Little Cub – Still life (Domino) – Socially critical lyrics over a satisfying electro soundtrack? What’s not to love? The analog synth work on this debut album brings to mind the well-honed sounds of New Order or Depeche Mode in their prime.

Ifriqiyya Electrique – Rûwâhîne (Glitterbeat Records) – This album is really hard to define – the closest I can pin it to is tribal industrial music. François Cambuzat and Gianna Greco have teamed up with a group of Tunisian Banga ceremonial musicians to blend their traditional trance dancing chants with grinding guitar riffs and bass-heavy production. The end result is a bit ominous and absolutely mesmerizing.

Yola Carter – Orphan Offering EP (Carter Records) – Loads of twang and folky strings, backing raw and powerful vocals. Carter’s ballads can swing from sleepy to soulful at a moment’s notice. This album is a bit of a late arrival, having been released at the end of 2016, but it’s well worth the listen.

I’m Not An Animal!

Ah, once again it’s those lazy, hazy (dare I say crazy?) days of summer when a young man’s thoughts turn to hydroplanes and water cannons. And The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle. And lime rickeys. But mostly to the Swindle.

Punk rock was doomed from its beginning. Any art form that’s do-it-yourself, non-mainstream rebellion against commercial art is eventually going to become codified and commercially successful on some level, thus transforming into the very thing that it mocks. The Sex Pistols, who defined punk rock, also defined the death of punk. Formed in 1975, dead in 1978, the Pistols’ influence is immeasurable, but their existence was quite short.

I’ve come to realize that by the time I was listening to the punk rock in Suburbia, USA (which was before most of my suburban contemporaries) it was no longer even a going concern. In January 1978, Johnny Rotten quit the Sex Pistols. He wanted to create groundbreaking music, not something that fit into the punk formula. It was probably another year before I even discovered the Pistols, dead on arrival.

BollocksThe lads only put out one official album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, but it provided fodder for a generation of musicians. Harkening back to a simpler time in the rock & roll world, a time of three chords and reckless abandon, the Pistols’ music provided welcome relief to the ever-more-complex album-oriented-rock of the 70s. Suddenly, it was okay for anyone to make music, to make a record. This above all else provided immeasurable influence on future musicians.

LiveIn addition to Never Mind the Bollocks, a variety of unofficial and semi-official releases have surfaced over the years. One of these is Live & Loud, a recording from the Pistols’ last show (other than reunions), January 14, 1978. Perhaps not the best collection to use as an introduction to the band, this raw recording does give the listener a chance to hear the seminal punk band live, 40 years after the fact!

SwindleAfter this performance Mr. Rotten quit the group, but the rest of the band carried on long enough to record a few songs for Malcolm McLaren’s 1980 mockumentary, The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle. McLaren was the Pistols’ manager, having created them in much the same manner as the Monkees had been put together 10 years before. The posthumous movie purported to be about the Sex Pistols and McLaren, but it was actually more along the lines of A Hard Day’s Night. And, perhaps most importantly to Sex Pistols fans, it included footage of the band.

The film’s soundtrack is a veritable melting pot of genres and quality, ranging from raw Sex Pistols demos to a disco Pistol medley to Sid Vicious croaking his way through Frank Sinatra territory. It’s not really an album that one sits down with to enjoy song after song. Rather, it’s a spectacle filled with piratey choruses, French folk music and a generous helping of covers. The disc appeals to me in the same way as Eraserhead or a nine-car pileup on the interstate: I can’t seem to look away.

So as the sun rises high in the sky and threatens to boil the whites of your eyes, keep cool with the Pistols. I think we can all agree that they said it best in their song Bodies:

I’m not a throbbing squirm

P.S. Don’t forget the lime rickey.