It’s No Longer Just For Fences



Let the hyphenated word flow over you like butter melted on a half-cooked flapjack: post-rock.

What in tarnation does it mean? The term elicits visions of a doctoral thesis with footnotes and a sports coat with patched elbows. A man in thick glasses and a pointy beard explains, in multi-syllabic folderol, the relationship of epistemology and horror punk while Abba plays endlessly through unseen speakers. Meanwhile, in a nearby room, banjos and mandolins attempt to tune.

But in reality it’s not that complicated. First of all, it’s important to know that there’s not agreement on what is meant by post-rock. The music tends to emulate a soundtrack (and, as it turns out, music by post-rock bands is often used in soundtracks) and is frequently free of lyrics, although a voice might be used as another instrument (i.e. singing without words). The music is generally minimalist, highly repetitive, changing slowly and exhibiting extremes in dynamics to create different moods/emotions. Unlike most soundtrack music, post-rock is performed on typical rock and roll instruments.

Caveat: This is not a genre I frequent. In fact, it is new to me. And it’s not a favorite I must say, but still worth exposing the huddled masses to (whoops, ended the sentence a preposition with). Please, do not attempt to review these bands at home, but listen to them from a safe distance and draw your own conclusions.


SlintSpiderland (1991) is considered by some to be one of the most important albums ever. The band has performed on and off since 1986, but have not released a recording since Spiderland. Their music is sludgy and ponderous, with many moods and tempos coexisting within a single song. It’s hard-edged, hard rock, even metallic. Vocals are used, although at times they are too quiet to clearly hear.


Swans – Not a band that easily fits within a single label, Swans’ experimental music exhibits many of the characteristics of post-rock. The Seer (2012) is almost operatic in scope. Drama and emotion are created subtly rather than with sweeping dynamic changes. Some tracks include singing and lyrics in a traditional song form, while others challenge the listener to find minute variations hidden in extreme repetition.  And yet other bits are similar to avant-garde classical music, featuring shimmering drones filled with ethereal timbre shifts. A beautiful, if not straightforward, listen.

Godspeed You! Black Emperorgodspeed – First of all, this could be my favorite band name of all time. But more relevantly, out of the groups I’ve explored for this post, Godspeed You! Black Emperor (it feels so good just to type the name!) strikes me as the most talented. Their music is slow-moving with lots of little stuff going on at any given moment, hard-edged and passionate. Unlike most post-rock musicians, band members are politically active. In fact, this lot is often referred to as anarchists, though they do not verify this claim. I’d give them a 12.

Explosions in the Skyexplosions – Explosions (as I’ve decided to call them) exemplify the epitome of post-rock as soundtrack. In fact, many of their songs have been used in movies and television. Almost exclusively instrumental, their music drifts along slowly, hitting emotional highs and lows with a vengeance. Dynamic extremes and more dynamic extremes are used to communicate these different moods, as well as to affect musical movement.


Tortoise – Perhaps the most popular of the post-rock bands, Tortoise’s music is very different from the groups mentioned above. Their 2016 album, The Catastrophist, is not so much a soundtrack as it is instrumental rock songs. The album relies heavily on synthesizers and does include some vocals. Fans of mainstream rock music could easily get a groove on to the post-rock sounds of … Tortoise!

And this barely scratches the surface. Kaada, Mogwai, Steroelab, Pelican and Sigur Rós all are worth checking out for their varying interpretations of post-rock. Aaaand, if you want to take a listen to the classical music that post-rock borrows some tricks from, try Greek composer Iannis Xenakis. Expand your horizons! Or don’t. But do enjoy some good music.

Listen Up! The Donations Edition

Collage of Album Covers

Readers who don’t work in the library with me might be totally unaware of the fact that we’re in the middle of doing an absolutely massive renovation of our non-public work areas. As a result, a lot of our ordering of new materials was slowed down or put on hold while our amazing technical services team (the folks who make sure our constant stream of new arrivals make it from the mail to the shelf and are easy to find in the catalog) were relocated to other areas around the library.

So, when library life hands you lemons, the best thing to do is attack the side projects for which you’ve desperately needed more time.

It’s a little known fact that the library receives a fair amount of donations from the public (HT to blogger and music podcaster Ron for sending a huge amount of great donations my way!). Some of these donations are used in our ongoing book/CD/DVD sales at both locations, but others do make it into our collections. Donations are a great way to fill gaps in our collection among older titles; sometimes we’re replacing existing copies that have become worn out, or missing copies that weren’t returned. Other times they’re titles we probably should have had all along but somehow it just never happened. Donations also give us a glimpse into what our library users like to listen to at home, which is helpful when considering future purchases.

Here’s just a small sample of some of the older titles that were recently added through heroic cataloging efforts by my colleague Carol. Many were checked out immediately, so it’s been great seeing them already making listeners happy. Place your holds now!

Meat Loaf – Bat out of Hell II
Eels – Beautiful Freak
Etta James – Etta James
The Police – Ghost in the Machine
ZZ Top – Greatest Hits
Dusty Springfield – The Very Best of Dusty Springfield
Social Distortion – White Light White Heat White Trash
Paul Simon – The Rhythm of the Saints
Various Artists – Pulp Fiction: Music from the Motion Picture
PJ Harvey – 4-Track Demos
Alicia Keys – As I am
Belle and Sebastian – The Boy with the Arab Strap
The Raconteurs – Broken Boy Soldiers
Less Than Jake – “Hello Rockview”
Aimee Mann – The Forgotten Arm
Dance Hall Crashers – Honey I’m Homely
The Breeders – Last Splash
The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour
Revolting Cocks – Beers, Steers & Queers
Peter, Paul, and Mary – No Easy Walk to Freedom
Stereolab – Serene Velocity
Alicia Keys – Songs in A Minor
NOFX – So Long and Thanks for All the Shoes
Dolly Parton – Dolly: The Best There Is
Fats Domino – Fats Domino Live
Cheap Trick – Greatest Hits
Bob Marley – Legend
Dropkick Murphys – The Warrior’s Code
Bob Dylan – The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964

This One’s For the Ladies

TacocatI always enjoy finding an exceptional new band or album, and my most recent discovery is Lost Time by Tacocat. Let us pause a moment to spell Tacocat backwards.


If that’s not enough reason to like them, there’s also the music. Labelling themselves post post punk pop pop, classified by many as punk or pop punk, Tacocat delivers ice-cream-with-bubble-gum-sweet hard-edged pop in a bowl of witty lyrics and feminism (from a fun viewpoint). They are the Go-Go’s’ slightly naughty younger sister.

The Northwest has been a hotbed for feminist bands since the 90s. Olympia was the cradle of the riot grrrl explosion (hard-hitting punk with feminist lyrics), which featured bands like Bikini Kill, Heavens to Betsy and Bratmobile. The current crop of feminist bands (Chastity Belt, NighTraiN, La Luz, Mommy Long Legs and G.L.O.S.S. among others) don’t all play the same style of music, but their lyrical content and philosophical bent join them together in a musical movement that is poised to be the next big thing in our corner of the continent.


Tacocat, the most popular of our NW feminist bands, came to some prominence in 2014 with the release of NVM, which includes Crimson Wave, a pop-surf song about menstruation.

Call my girls, see if they wanna go, take their minds off dumb aunt Flo
Sew a scarlet letter on my bathing suit, ‘cause I’ve got sharks in hot pursuit
Surfin’, surfin’ the wave

The album, whose title is a nod to Nirvana’s Nevermind, was critically acclaimed, even being named one of the top 10 CMJ college radio albums of 2014. Lost Time has not been as well-received but it’s still a highly enjoyable listening experience. The album’s title is an X-Files reference and the first song, Dana Katherine Scully, is a paean to Fox Mulder’s partner, a woman trying to get ahead in that men’s club known as the FBI: “… she’s the only one thinking it through …”.

Topics that the band tackles on Lost Time include menstruation, women having sex and men belittling women. FDP, the album’s second song, features lead singer Emily Nokes’ feelings on the first day of her period: “So tired, so spent / Functioning at ten percent”. A pregnancy scare is looked at in Plan A, Plan B when a woman considers using the morning-after pill as a contraceptive following a condom failure: “Had safe sex / Faulty latex”. Men Explain Things To Me is a woman’s response to mansplaining: “We get it dude / We’ve already heard enough from you / The turning point is overdue”.

But not everything is feminism. I Love Seattle takes a look at the earthquake that will destroy the Northwest coast and the lack of concern that accompanies it:

Ooooh, beautiful Seattle
Ah, fall into the sea
Earthquake, tsunami
There’s still no place I’d rather be

And other songs are simply about day to day life, its joys and pitfalls. Night Swimming contains an obscurely funny lyric: “You can bring a boom box / But you can’t play R.E.M.”. I enjoy this line simply because I don’t care for R.E.M.’s music. But dig even deeper and you’ll find that R.E.M. also has a song called Nightswimming. Excellent arcane reference.

Be sure to check out Lost Time, and if you want to look further into feminist music from the Northwest, try Sleater-Kinney, Childbirth and THEESatisfaction.


I’m Going on a Car Trip and I’m Taking…

5315332489_da1eaf57df_bPerhaps you know the car game that is similar to the one called “I’m Going on a Picnic” where the first person says something starting with the letter “A” and the second person says the thing starting with “A” and something starting with the letter “B”. On it goes in alphabetical order until someone forgets or you get to the last letter.

Well, we’re going on a twelve-hour car trip with two young girls, ages two and four, for our family vacation this labor day and I am reminded of that game as I set about packing and checking out items from the library in preparation for the long day’s drive. Here’s my alphabetical library packing list.

indexI’m going on a long drive and I’m taking an Audio Book. It needs to be one that the whole family will enjoy and so that means a kid’s story. I will probably end up with Hank the Cowdog. Hank thinks that he’s in charge of a ranch in Texas and has a lot of responsibilities that he tries to get his side kick Drover to do. Drover can’t because his leg hurts! We love listening to Hank’s adventures and you’re in luck if you do also, because there are lots of Hank books.

index (1)I’m going on a long drive and I’m taking a regular old Book. I’ll need it for reading by the pool in the bright sunlight. I’ll limit myself to one and take Shadows in the Vineyard. The subtitle is: the true story of the plot to poison the world’s greatest wine. I love reading about things that really have happened and Parisian detectives, small towns in France and wine. I’ll have to drink a glass while reading, non? Besides, I just love the feel of our quick pick books: soft and literary, or so it seems.

index (2)I’m driving twelve hours to Idaho and I’m taking lots of Children’s CD’s. We always take my favorite Cowboy Playground, but this time we hope to also take Laurie Berkner’s new one called Superhero. This much-anticipated album is her first of original titles since 2008. We are always enchanted by her imaginative and empowering lyrics. I’m excited to listen to this new CD because I’m sure there will be some great songs for storytime song and dance.

index (3)We’re driving to Idaho and taking some DVD’s from the library. We probably won’t have Hello, My Name is Doris yet because we’re down the hold list but will take London Has Fallen (which is one big chase scene) or Eddie the Eagle. It’s about an unlikely but courageous British ski-jumper who never stopped believing in himself, even as an entire nation was counting him out. I want to watch this ‘delightfully feel-good’ movie while on vacation.

index (4)I’m driving to Idaho and I’m taking an Ebook. It’ll probably be an audio ebook as I know I’ll be driving the long stretches while everyone else is napping. I love that kind of straight driving without interruptions like tailgaters or traffic of any sort, but you need some distraction. How about something by Bill Bryson like A Walk in the Woods? It’s funny and the author reads it to you and it’s about a wild adventure. Besides, the book is always better than the movie, right?

So, I’ll spare you the whole alphabet and skip F G H I J K and go to L, because I’ll be sure to pack my Library Card. My husband once flew to Idaho with only his library card as identification (back in the day when we had photos on them). Long story, but the point is you need your card to check out ebooks and magazines or to access expensive databases that are free with your library card. Or to board a plane. Don’t leave home without it!

index (1)I’m driving to Idaho and I know the way but still want to take Maps. The Idaho Atlas & Gazetteer is awesome if you love topographical maps and don’t want to miss that beautiful lake that is just out of sight. (I’ll never forgive myself for the time we missed Hoover Dam because I was so anxious to get out of Las Vegas!) The atlas notes all of the historic sites, the unique natural features, good hiking, and national forests.


indexI’m going on vacation and I’m taking a Novel! I just found Invincible Summer by Alice Adams waiting for me on the hold shelf. Spanning two decades, Adams presents the interwoven lives of four friends as they leave college and embark on the unclear waters of adulthood. It has a nice, summery cover (which the previous borrower sprinkled with sand–a nice touch). I’ll give it a go and let you know what I think after the trip.


It’s such a big job packing for an adventure like this that I’d better gather these things now and finish this game when we’re on our way. Road trip!

Rockers in Walkers

We humans are fascinated by car wrecks on the road of life, and aging rock stars provide a plethora of accidents for our viewing pleasure. It is with eager anticipation that we await the release of a new album by a dozing giant, hoping against hope that it’s a flop. Or maybe I just speak for myself.

It’s difficult, improbable even, for an artist to make a good album 30 to 40 years after their heyday. The Sonics were an exception in 2015. So it’s with morbid fascination that I search for albums by former stars or stars-on-the-decline, and 2016 has provided more than its share. Today we look at an ancient rock group, an ancient ex-lead singer and a slightly-less-ancient pop star.


Cheap Trick hit the big time with the release of Cheap Trick at Budokan in 1979. Although they continued to create high-quality albums for the next 30 years, the band’s success peaked soon after Budokan. 30 years later, 2009’s release, The Latest, showed that the lads … er, gentlemen, could still create amazing songs in their trademark power pop/hard rock wheelhouse. But following this album the band entered the longest silence of their career and seven years passed before the release of another album, 2016’s Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello.

So the question is: Do they still have it? And the answer is an unqualified, Yes! Bang, Zoom is not without a clunker or two, but overall the songs are very well-written, performed and produced. I’m not a huge Cheap Trick fan (although, wait for it, I do like their early stuff), but this is an album I could see listening to repeatedly. These fogies fellas have passed the litmus test of time, presenting fans with another gem.


Aerosmith first came into the public eye in 1973 with the release of Aerosmith. They are a rare band, one that has maintained a high level of success over the decades. At nearly age 70 it’s no longer so easy to Walk this Way (pause for laughter), but the fellows are still performing, be it somewhat sporadically. And over 40 years after the release of Aerosmith, lead singer Steven Tyler has released his first solo album, We’re All Somebody from Somewhere, an alleged foray into the country music world.

Many times over the years aging rockers have released country albums, so it would be easy to assume that Mr. Tyler is going down a well-trod path. However, to paraphrase a review of his album: country is no longer a genre, it’s a marketing scheme. If I had not read that We’re All Somebody was country before listening to it, I never would have suspected. The songs are power ballads, pop and some bluesiness, with a bit of mandolin, pedal steel, banjo and fiddle thrown in for that country feel. But in reality, there are no songs that could even remotely be classified as country. However, the album is well-done and if you like Aerosmith and Tyler’s voice you will probably enjoy it.


Cyndi Lauper exploded on the scene in 1983, which some of us think of as recently, others as 33 years ago. Spokeswoman for a generation of female music fans, actress and activist, Lauper released nine more albums after her debut, the last in 2010. Then in 2016 at 63-years-old, a time when singers’ voices often change for the worse, Lauper returned with a (wait for it again) country album.

Unlike Steven Tyler’s latest, Lauper’s album Detour uses immortal songs from the annals of country music. Since the songs are already beloved, this leaves the success of the album in the hands of her voice (so to speak), which is a brilliant concept since the voice in question is still going strong. The mix of beautiful interpretations with classic country repertoire results in an album of highly listenable music.

So, no roadkill or dismemberments for today. Maybe next time. We are simply left with a trio of good-to-great albums by a collection of geezers. And I mean that fondly, as a near-geezer myself. As Ringo Starr said in Honey Don’t, “Rock on George, for Ringo, one time!”

Which clearly doesn’t apply to this review.

Listen Up! August New Music Arrivals

New Music Arrivals Collage

August seems to be the month for the rowdy and the thought-provoking; most of my picks this month deliver some pretty strong messages. Get involved – place your holds now!

Laura Mvula – The Dreaming Room (Sony Music Entertainment) – A strong follow-up to Mvula’s highly-acclaimed debut, Sing to the Moon. Enjoy rich vocals backed by a delightful mix of orchestral accompaniment, neo-soul rhythms, and a range of powerfully-moving songwriting.

Anohni – Hopelessness (Secretly Canadian) – Down-tempo alt rock/electronic pop with strong political themes. Vocals that shift from dreamlike to a hypnotic drone at times, even lilting.

Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate (Interscope) –  First and foremost a soul album, but with hints of rock, blues, gospel, and even a kind of classic rock feel at times. Very beautiful, grand, and political. I loved this album.

Audion –Alpha (The Ghostly International Company; !k7 Records) – The kind of club-friendly techno you’ve come to expect from Matthew Dear’s more driving and gritty alter ego.

Fantasia – The Definition Of… (RCA Records) – RnB with a little bit of rock, soul, and electronic influence. This is a great pick for anyone looking to dance around to some great harmonizing with the occasional dose of humor. It has a throwback feel that makes me think of a lot of early 90s RnB.

Mitski – Puberty 2 (Dead Oceans) – Gritty, beautiful, and packed with raw emotion. Mitski Miyawaki explores love, loss, anxiety, and depression in her 5th wonderfully-complex and vibrant indie rock offering.

White Lung – Paradise (Domino Recording Co.) – Vancouver punk trio dips a toe into new songwriting territory in their 4th release. The album remains unflinchingly confrontational and provocative, but they have embraced a hint of new pop sensibility that makes this release perhaps a little more accessible to a wider audience without much compromise.

Xenia Rubinos – Black Terry Cat (Anti) – A deeply-satisfying mix of funk, rock, electronic, RnB, jazz, and hip hop styles that explores how women of color move through today’s social landscape.

Listen Up! June/July New Music Arrivals

Album Art Collage

I took a little break last month, so I’ve got a lot of new arrivals to recommend. Place your holds now and start exploring!

Joseph Bertolozzi – Tower Music (Innova) – Lively but minimalist (if that’s at all possible). This almost comes off as born-digital electronic music, even though the sounds were all produced using one very large analog instrument: the Eiffel Tower. I would love to hear the remixes that could be made from these pieces.

Boulevards – Groove (Captured Tracks) – Funk with a side of hip hop. Fans of Prince and Rick James will be into this.

Musiq Soulchild – Life on Earth (My Block; Entertainment One U.S.) – Dance floor friendly soul, RnB, and smooth slow jams.

uKanDanz –Awo (Buda Musique) –  Hailing from Addis Ababa and Lyon, uKanDanz classifies themselves as “Ethiopian Crunch Music.” What that means is that listeners are treated to a thoroughly satisfying mashup of metal and hard rock guitar riffs and power chords; a blues and jazz horn section; and amazing vocals that expressively wail, croon, and keen.

Debo Band – Ere Gobez (FPE Records) – Bluesy, jazzy, sultry, a little funky – almost torch songs, but with Ethiopian pop overtones.

Case/Lang/Veirs (ANTI-) – Dreamy, beautiful, and engaging vocals, with a bit of twang. Melancholy, moving, powerful, harmonious.

Miles Davis and Robert Glasper – Everything’s Beautiful (Columbia: Legacy) – A re-imagining of Davis’s catalog with the help of a star-studded lineup of jazz, hip-hop, and RnB collaborators.

Garbage – Strange Little Birds (Stunvolume) – In their 10th studio album, Shirley Manson and the band return to their roots by drawing on their musical influences, as well as the sounds that made them a hit in their 1995 self-titled debut. Strange Little Birds has a decidedly nostalgic feel, but is by no means stale.

William Bell – This is Where I Live (Fantasy) -Classic southern soul and RnB with a little bit of rock and roll mixed in.

Imarhan – Imarhan (City Slang) – Traditional Tuareg and pan-African ballads blended with rock and funk rhythms and a healthy love of bass.

Maxwell – Black Summers’ Night (Columbia) – In a long-awaited return 7 years in the making, this album is full of funky, smooth, even jazzy elements with some stand-out drum work.

A-Wa – Habib Galbi (S-Curve Records) – Three sisters with a love for electronic music, reggae, and Yemenite women’s chants. Sound like an odd mix? Only if you’re not into dancing, fun, and on-point harmonizing.

Whitney – Light Upon the Lake (Secretly Canadian) – Upbeat, bright, rock album with distinctive vocals. This debut is chock-full of short but polished tracks that show the well-honed skills of duo Max Kakacek (Smith Westerns) and Julien Ehrlich (Unknown Mortal Orchestra).

Ólafur Arnalds – LateNightTales (Night Time Stories Ltd.) – Down-tempo, ambient, beautiful dreamscapes. Some trip hop beats interspersed. Fans of Bjork, Prefuse 73, and Sigur Rós would probably be into it. ‘Icelandic’ would be the best adjective to describe this one.