Staff Picks: the Music Edition

One of the best things about working in a library is that you can never complain about the lack of new discoveries. Whether it’s an interesting reference question that takes you down a rabbit hole into a topic you’d never thought much about, or chatting with your colleagues about their likes and dislikes, you’re bound to learn something. For that reason, I love talking to people about their favorite music. I enjoy listening to new things, but have to admit I can get stuck in a rut listening only to music that is familiar. So, I decided to reach out to some of my colleagues to ask about their favorite music for the benefit of our dear blog readers.

Carol

Walk the Moon – Walk the Moon (RCA Records)
My husband and I may quite possibly be the oldest people to rock out at their concerts, but Walk the Moon has been my absolute favorite for the last three years. At a WTM concert in 2013 I had a girl tell me, “OMG You know all the words to the songs!” When they were here in March I had an injured foot, so guys, I apologize for having to literally sit the concert out. I swear Kevin was staring holes into my forehead like, “Girl, get moving!” But it allowed me to snap this photo.

Walk the Moon in Seattle

Best known for the oft-played Anna Sun, these four happy-go-lucky guys from Cincinnati are up for an MTV Music Video Award for Shut Up and Dance from their new album Talking is Hard. If you like upbeat rock with fast keyboards and killer guitar riffs, you will love WTM.

Some others that evoke similar upbeat happy feelings with catchy lyrics you’ll be singing in your sleep:
St. Lucia (song: All Eyes on You)
Misterwives (song: Reflections)
Passion Pit (song: Lifted Up)
Big Data (song: The Business of Emotion)
The Paper Towns soundtrack (song: My Type by Saint Motel)

Ron

The Cramps album coverThe Cramps – Songs the Lord Taught Us (A & M Records) is perhaps one of the most innovative rock albums created since the beginning of time and space. Lead singer Lux Interior was a true 50s-style rockabilly crooner emoting over guitar leads from a slightly alternabilly universe, as well as distant buzzsaw chords borrowed from nightmarish experiments. Drums are simple, sounding as if any fill might end with the entire kit falling over. And lush reverb envelops it all. Some label them garage or punk, others as the creators of psychobilly. Labels aside, they are forgers of new territory whilst maintaining solid roots in traditional rock and roll. I recommend their cover of Little Willie John’s Fever as an eye-opening, mind-imploding aural extravaganza.

Kate

Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (Aftermath Records). Just when everyone thought Eminem was washed up, he surprised everyone and dropped this great album. I’ve been heard to say it’s to Eminem what Ray of Light was for Madonna. It doesn’t matter if he never issues anything better; this album solidifies Eminem’s place as one of the very few Kings (with a capital “K”) of hip-hop. Please note: Eminem’s subject matter and content remains socially irresponsible and potentially offensive.

Minor Threat album coverMinor Threat – Complete Discography (Dischord). 1983’s Out of Step is a landmark punk album and all of its songs are included in this collection. In Minor Threat’s short career they didn’t have much opportunity to create a bad song; every song here evokes the time when the gritty east-coast punk sound was just emerging.

X – Los Angeles (Rhino Entertainment). Thanks to The Doors’ Ray Manzarek’s interest in the band, this album sports a high production value that might have seemed contradictory to a seminal west-coast punk album, if it weren’t for X’s inimitable and distinct style and sound. This would be on my deserted island list for sure.

The Antlers album coverThe Antlers – Familiars (Anti-). Most agree Familiars is an intentional follow-up to the soul-crushing but gorgeous death-themed Hospice, and that’s a compliment of the highest order. The Antlers can take you to the deepest depths but their sharp wit and lovely arrangements won’t leave you there for too long. I recommend listening with headphones in order to catch all of the musical and lyrical subtleties.

Perfume Genius – Too Bright (Matador). For me, this record was a happy accidental discovery; I plucked it off of a library display on a whim, and I was immensely rewarded. Described as “Chamber Pop,” the album is rich with raw LGBTQ themes that feel so relevant at this moment in history. As it happens, this album was partially recorded in Everett.

Arcade Fire album coverArcade Fire – Funeral (Merge Records). If you haven’t heard it before, stop what you are doing and immediately go listen to Arcade Fire’s 2004 debut release. It includes (what arguably became) the band’s anthem, “Wake Up”, a song that sparked an entire musical genre’s obsession with large-group vocal harmonizing. This also makes my deserted island list.

Richard

vietcongViet Cong – Viet Cong (Jagjaguwar). If it wasn’t for Lisa’s recommendation, I wouldn’t have stumbled upon this dynamite Canadian four piece group. Their sound is post-punk with a little bit of synth and a lot of angst thrown in. Each song inhabits that great space between carrying a tune and totally falling apart. Plus how can you not love a band with a song titled “Pointless Experience”?

Chvrches – The Bones of What You Believe (Glassnote). Be forewarned, this is heavily crafted electronic music with nary a guitar lick in sight. With strong vocals, great hooks and extreme precision their music flirts with going over the top, but the lyrics keep it grounded in the world of break ups and existential ennui. A new album, Every Open Eye, will be coming out in September.

Me (Lisa)

I’ll keep this short since I already spend a lot of time talking about my musical tastes.

Daft Punk – Homework (Virgin) Long before the robot helmets and sold-out massive festival events, there were two gangly French dudes making amazing house and techno in a field somewhere in Wisconsin. Not long after Daft Punk’s first North American appearance at Further 1996, they released their bombshell debut album, Homework. For the first time in the US, tracks that we’d only heard at underground parties were getting a ton of play on mainstream radio channels, and videos in heavy rotation on MTV. Almost 20 years later, I can throw this album on and still want to dance.

Frankie Knuckles cover imageDefected Presents House Masters: Frankie Knuckles (Defected Records) Another trip down electronic music memory lane. For anyone interested in the roots of today’s EDM, this retrospective of the late, great Frankie Knuckles is an absolute must. Take a trip back to the Warehouse days of Chicago, when house music was brand new, and had yet to become a global music phenomena that spawned countless genres of dance music.

Place your holds and listen along with us. For the next couple weeks different staff members will be maintaining a ‘staff picks’ music display at the main library. Keep your eyes peeled for more great recommendations there.

The Best Music of 2013

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

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

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

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

Album covers Ron

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

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

Other Bests of 2013:

Album covers Zac


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

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

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

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

Other 2013 favorites:

Album covers Lisa


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

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

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

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

Album covers Carol

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