Listen Up! Fall New Music Arrivals

"Listen Up!" in dark pink text, written over a blurry black and yellow background with a design that looks like a half moon.

Fall into some new music at the EPL (I’m sorry – that was terrible). The seasons are changing, and so should your playlist. Place your holds now:

Soul of a Nation: Afro-Centric Visions in the Age of Black Power (Soul Jazz Records) – Funk, jazz, poetry: this compilation showcases an awesome variety. This was compiled to accompany an exhibition at the Tate Modern of Black art from the 1960s. While comprised of funk, soul, jazz, and spoken word, fans of hip hop and electronic music can also appreciate this album as a history lesson in the roots of many modern genres.

Twista – Crook County (GMG Entertainment) – The Chicago artist with arguably the fastest flow in hip-hop is back with his tenth studio release. Twista seeks to tackle the corruption rife in his home city and explore the conflict between old-school hip hop and new. Not all of the tracks feature Twista’s blisteringly-fast rhymes, but his unique style will leave you tongue-tied on more than a few occasions if you’re ambitious enough to try to rap along.

Nine Inch Nails- Add Violence (Capitol) – A short sampling of what NIN has been working on during their long silence. I loved what they had to offer, but found it a little funny that they made it a little longer by adding a fairly unnecessary 4 minutes of static on the last track. I generally love what Trent Reznor does, but that seemed to be stretching it a little.

Lo’Jo – Fonetiq Flowers (Real World Records) – A playful blend of musical styles from French folk and Romani music to hip hop and languorous torch songs. An eclectic array of instruments build a mood that is dramatic, mysterious, and worldly.

Tyler the Creator – Flower Boy (Columbia) – Switching gears from abrasive and controversial to a more introspective vibe, Flower Boy delves into the changes that have come into Tyler the Creator’s life as he’s grown up in the public eye. From empty sexual encounters to seeking partnership, Tyler’s lyrics reflect the anxiety, confusion, and isolation he’s often felt during the course of his career. This release seems like a leap into a maturation of sound, with even the production taking on a tighter, more focused feel.

King Krule – The Ooz (True Panther Sounds) – An intriguing, avant-garde mix of jazz, rock, hip hop, electronic, and spoken word. One of the many music-making monikers of British artist Archy Marshall, King Krule’s sound manages to be both beautiful and a bit disturbing at the same time. Each track flows with a sense of unease – that there is something hidden to discover that could either be wonderful or horrible (or somehow both?).

Doing Our Thing: More Soul From Jamdown 1970-1982 (Cree Records) – A rich collection of early reggae covers of U.S. soul and disco cuts. Compiled by reggae historian Steve Barrow, this track list reads like a who’s who of Jamaica’s musical pioneers and showcases the mass appeal of the cover tradition in reggae music.

Jupiter & Okwess – Kin Sonic (Glitterbeat Records) – Congolese rhythm, instrumentation, and vocals smash together with Western rock and RnB culture to produce something energetic and unique. Hard to pin down because Kinshasa born/German-raised bandleader Jean-Pierre Bokondji’s influences are many, listeners find elements of ska, hip hop, disco, soul, funk, reggae, rock, Congolese rumba, and so much more. Extra flavor comes from guest appearances by Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz, Bad Seeds‘ Warren Ellis and Massive Attack‘s Robert del Naja.

Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn – Echo in the Valley (Rounder) – This album is just exploding with bright sounds and melody. The partnership of Fleck and Washburn, between their skilled banjo playing and her elevating vocals, is hard to rival. This is a joyous, warm, and welcoming collection of songs that seems to give its all from first to last note.

William Patrick Corgan – Ogilala (BMG Rights Management) – The former front man of The Smashing Pumpkins is back with a new solo endeavor and a more adult-sounding iteration of his name. What hasn’t changed is the signature sound of Corgan’s acoustic songwriting with its gentle, melodic instrumentation and sing-song lyrics, which as the artist admits are more often than not composed to sound poetic than to bear much meaning. This pick is more one of nostalgia than anything for me. It’s an easy listen, with WPC’s skills stripped down to where he shines. One majorly disappointing note to this release is the inappropriate faux Native American theme with its misspelled title and the cover art featuring bad dime-store feather headdresses. Haven’t we moved past that sort of disrespectful kitsch? Corgan has not been known for his tact and sensitivity over the years, so I can’t say this comes as a huge surprise.

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.

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.

Listen Up! May New Music

Collage of album covers with "listen up" written over them

Spring is flying by, and it appears that May is giving us a sneak preview of summer as a makeup gift for all the rain we had over the last few months. The timing is just right, because we just received a batch of new releases that would make a great soundtrack for a night of grilling, hanging out on the deck, or taking a walk around the neighborhood. Place your holds now, and check out the latest at the EPL:

Les Amazones d’Afrique – Republique Amazone (Real World Records, 2017) – Les Amazones are an all-star collective of West African songstresses who have united to create music about feminism and gender equality. Each vocalist brings her own unique style to the table, creating a very satisfying mix of rock, trip-hop, dub, blues, electronic, jazz, West African pop, and traditional music. The overall effect is a very dance-floor-friendly approach to protest music.

Feist – Pleasure (Interscope Records, 2017) – This is an album that covers a lot of ground with ease: at times blues rock with very subtle country undertones and others grinding and almost punk. The pace of the album seems very laid back but deliberate; each track follows its own timeline, building to just the right level of complexity to perfectly complement the vocals. I appreciate the contradictions: gritty and lovely – soft vocals and loud riffs. There’s something about the production, imperfect with the pop and hiss of an old mix tape, that makes it feel very intimate.

Mary J. Blige – Strength of a Woman (Capitol Records, 2017) –  Mary J. Blige brings us a classic breakup album with all the anger, pain, strength, and redemption that you’d expect from such a legendary artist going through some pretty intense pain. Cameos by Kanye West, DJ Khaled, Missy Elliott, and Kaytranada only enrich an already strong offering. As in all her music, Blige shares her struggles through her art and uses the medium to pull herself through life’s trials – in Strength it appears she is, once again, emerging from the test on top.

Wale – Shine (Atlantic Urban, 2017) – a deceptively upbeat release with a summer feel, but behind each track lies a little bit of darkness. Wale seems to be emerging from a period of struggle both with other artists and with himself. The arrival of his newborn daughter seems to be a strong driving force for this change and also a reoccurring theme in his music.

Perfume Genius –No Shape (Matador, 2017) – Mike Hadreas’s latest release is an ecstatic celebration of love. Following similar LGBTQ themes from his previous albums, he delves into the facets of his relationship with musical collaborator and long-time partner, Alan Wyffels. No Shape is a collection of dreamy, dramatic recordings, full of bright highs and turbulent lows that explode with layer upon layer of sound.

Brother Ali – All the Beauty in This Whole Life (Rhymesayers Entertainment, 2017) – Veteran Minneapolis MC Brother Ali revisits an old collaborator, Atmosphere producer Ant, for an expansive new collection of beats and rhymes. All the Beauty in This Whole Life touches on familiar themes for Ali, mixing politics, religion, family, race relations, and the artist’s experiences exploring the world all backed by relatively sparse but soulful production.

Jay Som – Everybody Works (Polyvinyl Record Co., 2017) – I have to admit that Jay Som was a bit of an unknown to me. I’d purchased her unofficial debut, Turn Into, last year when her Bandcamp upload of assorted tracks was re-released by Polyvinyl, but it didn’t really register with me. When I first previewed Everybody Works I needed to do a little more research, because I felt like I’d just run into someone I should know – the album had a polished feel of a veteran rocker, full of confidence and sophistication. To my delight, I learned that this was the first ‘official’ release of 22-year-old Melina Duterte – recorded in her bedroom studio and full of the promise of lovely music yet to come. Everybody Works has kind of a soft, sleepy vibe, occasionally amplified by interludes that feel a little bit like 90s alt rock. There’s a lot of depth and variety to Jay Som’s sound, offering a little something for everyone. I’m looking forward to hearing more.

Juanes – Mis Planes Son Amarte (Universal Music Latino, 2017) – Readers of this blog may have noticed that I have a soft spot for albums that tell a story – Mis Planes is no exception. In his latest release, Juanes embarks on an audiovisual saga of love and outer space. Follow along as a Colombian astronaut searches for true love; you have the option of just listening to the CD or popping in the bonus disc to enjoy the videos that go with each track. Juanes’s sound is heavily influenced by the traditional music of his native Guasca region of Colombia but it also features layers of different sounds: a little surf rock, a little electronic music, crooner vocals to pull on your heartstrings, and even a little reggae and reggaeton. Pop this in if you’re looking for something with a very tropical, romantic feel to it.

Happy listening, and enjoy the sunshine!

Book and an Album: Identity and Otherness

If you want to excite a Librarian, tell them that a book award is being announced. Seriously, try it. We love these prize/honor lists because we get to see incredible authors and illustrators get the recognition they deserve, but also because it is a surefire way to find remarkable books to read and share with others. I discovered Watched by Marina Budhos when it was named an honor book for the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature. A short plot summary was enough to convince me I had to read this book.

Naeem is a young man caught between expectations and desires. As a first generation Bangladeshi immigrant, he is aware of the sacrifices that his parents make for him, and feels the pressure to succeed. As a Muslim, he knows that he is expected to be respectful and pious even while he questions his faith. And finally, as an older brother he knows that he is a role model to a young boy who reveres him.

Watched-CoverYet Naeem has his own ideas. He goes to school in Queens and his experiences are far different from his parents and other elders. And because Naeem is a teenager, his brain is hardwired to make some rash decisions (really – it’s science). After making a string of poor choices, it isn’t too surprising when Naeem finds himself in an interrogation room facing accusations and likely arrest by the NYPD. Instead, the police offer Naeem an alternative – watch his neighborhood and its mosques, report on “suspicious” activity, and make some decent money in the process.

Naeem desperately agrees to this offer and things start off fairly well. Naeem feels like a hero. He believes that by watching his neighborhood he can keep trouble makers from ruining the reputation of the hard-working majority of his community. It doesn’t hurt that he is also earning enough money to help his parents make ends meet. But as the pressure to produce actionable intelligence increases, and the police turn their focus to people close to Naeem, he faces difficult choices about his identity, his community and his sense of right and wrong.

While Watched deals with heavily politicized topics, the book has few outright heroes or villains. Watched works largely in the gray, giving complex motives to characters whether they are exploitative police officers, terror suspects, misunderstanding parents or troubled teenagers. The ideas in this novel are as nuanced as the characters and Budhos uses Naeem’s trials to explore difficult questions. Among the most significant concepts in Watched is that of the “good immigrant,” a nebulous phrase that can serve as a disservice to both those it includes and excludes. Watched is a compelling story that left me unsettled, challenged my assumptions, and rewarded my time.

a0908914594_16Need an album to pair with Watched? Try the Swet Shop Boys’ debut album, Cashmere. Swet Shop Boys are the rappers Heems and Riz MC, better known as the actor Riz Ahmed. Together, they make music that is both pointedly political and raucously hilarious, with gorgeous production that leans heavily on South Asian samples. Heems and Riz MC trade rhymes exploring identity, race, inequality and otherness with dexterity, refusing to shy away from controversy and pushing the comfort boundaries of the listener. Given that Heems first broke out as part of the group Das Racist, with the song Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, it should come as no surprise that this album has plenty of lighter moments and more than a few explicit references. Make no mistake; this is an album that provokes. Several of the songs tell stories from perspectives that may offend. Yet these are also stories that feel real and urgent, presenting perspectives that are underrepresented in both popular music and hip-hop.

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! April New Music

Tropix Cover

Warming temperatures must have me in the mood to dance, because this month’s picks have a lot of electronic, rock, hip-hop and world offerings. Place your holds now at epls.org.

Junior Boys – Big Black Coat (City Slang) – beautifully-sparse with hints of Detroit techno or classic Kraftwerk krautrock. Big Black Coat is dancy, synthy, and even a little bit sensual.

Hidden City CoverThe Cult – Hidden City (Cooking Vinyl) – no nonsense guitar-driven rock. This album has some 90s alternative undertones, but definitely not in a bad way. I find this release nostalgic, though I am new to The Cult (a discovery that only took me 10 albums).

Seth Bogart CoverSeth Bogart – Seth Bogart (Burger Records) – If you’re looking for a pop/rock release that sounds like it was made on an old Casio, you’ve come to the right place. Seth Bogart is infectiously poppy with a throwback 80s sound. With a judicious use of the auto-tune, his self-titled release is cheesy but fun.

Adore Life CoverSavages – Adore Life (Matador Records) – Loud, gritty, and full of love in all its realities. Adore Life is a solid rock album that brings to mind the likes of Joan Jett, The Pixies, and Fugazi. I really appreciated the progression of the album; it has the ability to rip things apart and then slow everything down with a lyrical and melodious groove.

Hella Personal CoverOpen Mike Eagle + Paul White – Hella Personal Film Festival – Emcee Open Mike Eagle likes to refer to his style as ‘Art rap,’ coming out with a blending of beats, funk, soul, alt rock, nerdy film samples, and much more. Thought provoking lyrics mixed with a hearty dose of self-deprecating humor make the messages hit home harder, giving the listener much food for thought.

Are you Serious coverAndrew Bird – Are You Serious (Loma Vista Recordings) – Lots of mellow yet complex jams. Heaps of fuzz and feedback gives Are You Serious a bit of a vintage feel with tropical overtones.

Céu – Tropix – Bright, smooth, funky, with a strong electronic music influence. This feels like bossa nova in space, with a little bit of a dub vibe. Céu moves freely through an array of musical influences to create an excellent album to dance or just chill to.