Comics Wherever, Whenever

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Did someone say dinner?

I realize I’m not breaking any news by saying it’s been a strange few weeks, but man…it’s been a strange few weeks! If you’re like me, staying home may have seemed like a fun idea for the first forty-five minutes. Then began the fidgeting, the laps around the living room, the trips to the snack cabinet, all while scolding the dog that 2 p.m. is not dinnertime. Even removed from the stressful headlines and creeping anxiety, long days at home are not easy for me! If you, like me, might be looking for an escape, then let me lead you to the wonderful world of Hoopla’s digital comics and graphic novels. 

Margo wrote a wonderful introduction to Hoopla last week, and while the streaming tv and music are great, it’s the comics where I get my money’s worth – a pretty easy task since the service is FREE with my library card! If you’ve never read digital comics, it is definitely a process that takes some getting used to. If you have one available, I’d suggest using a tablet or computer instead of your phone. One really nice feature that Hoopla offers is the ability to zoom in on individual cells of a comic, allowing an easier reading experience, albeit sometimes at the expense of the big picture. To activate the zoom, simply click once with your mouse on a computer, or tap the screen twice on a phone or tablet. 

Wondering where to begin? I get it! There is an almost-overwhelming number of titles to choose from, and you can’t really go wrong. But if you do want some suggestions, here are some old favorites and recent titles I’ve enjoyed.

New Kid by Jerry Craft
Well, this one feels like cheating. New Kid is an incredible read and a slam dunk recommendation for readers of all ages. The main character is endearing and relatable, his experiences are profound and enlightening, and Craft’s artwork and storytelling are skillful and moving. It is no wonder that New Kid was the first graphic novel to ever win the Newbery Medal

This incredible book follows Jordan, a young black seventh grader attending a new school, a private academy where he will be surrounded by wealthier classmates and be one of the few students of color. As Jordan struggles to adjust and adapt to this new environment and the ways that his identity and family background affect his treatment, he also has to contend with the more traditional new-school experiences: making friends, dealing with teachers and parents who might mean well, but sometimes don’t get it. In a clever bit of storytelling, Craft features Jordan’s sketches within this book, allowing the reader to see more directly how Jordan’s treatment by others makes him feel. 

No Ivy League by Hazel Newlevant
In some ways, this quick moving graphic memoir takes the concept of New Kid and throws it into reverse. This book follows Hazel, a 17-year-old home-schooled senior as she embarks on a summer job clearing invasive ivy from a park in Portland, Oregon. Hazel’s life to this point has been rather sheltered and she is not completely prepared for the diverse range of experiences, backgrounds, and identities she encounters among her new co-workers. This frank book does not shy away from uncomfortable encounters in Hazel’s life and while at times her personal growth seems to come a bit too easily, I appreciate the way that Newlevant examines privilege and prejudice in a relatable coming of age story. 

I Am Not Okay with This by Charles Forsman
If you are a Netflix fan you might have stumbled upon a strange, violent, and darkly hilarious new show called I Am Not Okay with This. And if you, like me, found out the show was based on a comic, you might’ve wished you could read it. Great news! This very adult comic is on Hoopla. Truthfully, the black-and-white line-drawn style was not what I was expecting from this story, but I loved it nonetheless. 

Like the TV show, this comic follows a teenaged girl named Sydney as she grapples with her romantic feelings for her best friend, a tense relationship with her mother, the death of her father, experimentation with sex and drugs, and her violent, uncontrollable superpower. You know, the normal teen stuff! This comic is equal parts twisted and delightful and I loved every second I spent with it. 

Dept. H by Matt Kindt & Sharlene Kindt
This is one where I feel like the less I tell you the better. Of all the comics I am writing about, I find the artwork here to be the most gorgeous. Dept. H follows Mia, an investigator who travels to an undersea research station to solve a murder. Things quickly grow….complicated (and deadly!) as her romantic and familial connections to the station and its inhabitants pull her in conflicting directions. This is a taut and surprising comic that crosses genres with ease while building a fascinating world. 

Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass by Mariko Tamaki & Steve Pugh
Are we in the midst of a Harley Quinnaissance? I think we might be! She has the big DC movie, which I really wish I could watch (release it now!) and the animated tv show on the DC Universe streaming network, which I really wish I could watch (bring it to Hoopla!). Luckily, Breaking Glass provides a delightful YA origin story for Harley. Follow Harley as she makes her way in Gotham City, makes some good friends named Ivy and Joker, and finds a way to save a drag queen’s cabaret from the evils of gentrification. I’ve always been a Marvel person, but Harley might just make me switch sides. 

Rebels: These Free and Independent States by Brian Woods, Andrea Mutti, and Lauren Affe
Let’s move on to some history. This book is actually a follow-up to Rebels: A Well-Regulated Militia, which is unfortunately not available on Hoopla. When the library is able to reopen, find it there! Luckily, both these books work perfectly well as standalones. In this newer collection, Woods tells the story of John Abbott, a young ship builder caught up in the chaos, violence, and politics of the War of 1812. This book might best be considered high drama with a side of history, but it gives fascinating context and vivid color to an oft-forgotten period in US history. 

Simon Says Vol. 1: Nazi Hunter by Andre Frattino and Jesse Lee
Listen, we know not to judge a book by its cover. This time I’m asking you not to judge one by its title. Like Rebels, this comic takes a true piece of history and embellishes, perhaps at times wildly. I don’t know how much in common this comic’s Simon has with the actual Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal, so I am assuming it is all fiction. That said, this is a thrilling romp of a noire comic. It follows Simon, a Jewish artist in Germany shortly after the Nuremberg trials. Simon lost his family at the hands of the Nazis and he is now driven by a single task: to take his revenge one Nazi officer at a time. Violent vigilante justice meets unimaginable trauma in a story that feels destined for film or series adaptation. 

Of course, Hoopla doesn’t just have comics, so I also want to highlight the three albums (all on Hoopla!) that I was listening to while I wrote this.

Chika Industry Games and Jay Electronica A Written Testimony
They say good things come to those who wait, and these two albums prove it! I’ve been a fan of Chika for a few years, since she started popping up on Instagram ripping incredible freestyles and building a devoted following. Ever since, I’ve been waiting for a proper album and she delivered with Industry Games. Chika is not afraid to go dual threat and crush a hook, but she truly shines as a rapper, bundling incredible lyrical dexterity and clever wordplay with effortless swagger. This is a rising force to be reckoned with. 

On the other hand, I truly have no idea how long I’ve been waiting for Jay Electronica’s debut full length. Twelve years? As an artist, he has been elusive and enigmatic, and at times plain infuriating, so I had no idea what to expect from this album. It turns out he gave us a masterpiece. No one else rhymes quite like he does, and he brought ALL of the heat to this album, building on beautiful production, complexly layered references, and perfect delivery. If all of this doesn’t move the needle for you, JAY-Z also features on nearly every track. 

Overcoats The Fight 
I almost always listen to hip-hop, but when I don’t, I’m probably bopping to Overcoats. This duo makes the perfect blend of electro-pop and indie folk. Harmonized vocals, soaring melodies, and maybe even an occasional hand clap. What are you waiting for?

On the Come Up

Is it possible to wait months for a book’s release, get an advance copy, geek out about getting an advance copy, forget about said advanced copy, get bogged down in work projects, read some less-fulfilling books, wait on the hold list for the now newly-released book, finally get your turn with the book, then remember the advance copy buried on your desk? Yes, it would appear that this is possible and I can prove it. That’s why I am only now gushing over Angie Thomas’s (relatively) new novel On the Come Up.

On the Come Up is set in Garden Heights, the same neighborhood as Thomas’s incredible debut novel, The Hate U Give, and follows a teenaged aspiring rapper named Bri Jackson. Bri’s childhood has been informed by several traumatic events. As a young girl Bri lost her father, a rapper on the cusp of stardom, when he was murdered in front of her house. This terrible event devastated Bri’s mother who subsequently suffered from a years-long battle with substance abuse and addiction. As a result, Bri and her older brother spent a significant portion of their childhood living with their strict, god-fearing grandparents before their mother was able to regain her sobriety and reunite with her children.

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At age 16 Bri is an incredibly precocious rapper and somewhat ambivalent student with a quick-fire temper and a burning desire to make it big and earn the money to help her family. When a video of her battle rapping goes viral, Bri realizes that her dreams of hip-hop stardom could become reality. But the closer Bri gets to realizing her goal, the more slippery it becomes. A racially charged incident with school security leaves Bri suspended, then some of her angrier lyrics lead to misinterpretation, overwrought outrage, and media hysteria. Bri must also decide who to trust with her career – her devoted aunt with a penchant for neighborhood trouble or her father’s slick talking former manager.

At the same time that Bri is trying to jumpstart her career, she is also dealing with plenty of personal issues. From family conflict, to the stresses of poverty, to discrimination and bigotry at school, the challenges of everyday life are fraying Bri’s nerves. And then there are the boys! There’s Bri’s best friend who she has long had feeling for. But he just started dating someone else. And Curtis the wise cracking jerk who nobody takes seriously until Bri notices that he is hiding depth behind his jackass facade. As Bri’s personal life, family history, and rap god aspirations begin to collide she must contend with not only neighborhood beefs and career goals, but figuring out how to stay true to herself in a world determined to tear her down.

Angie Thomas is an incredibly skilled writer able to deftly balance the gross injustices of structural inequality, the unrelenting traumas of being a black woman in America, and the less weighty but still-urgent drama of teenage life. All of her characters are both relatable and realistic, and she has mastered the critical skill of capturing the voices of young people in a way that never feels contrived. Thomas was an aspiring teenaged rapper herself and Bri’s raps are as impressive as Thomas’s prose. In fact, I’d recommend listening to Thomas deliver some of these lyrics, as you can in this video, to get a better sense of the skill that Thomas possesses as an MC and writer. My favorite part is the dexterity of her flow when she rhymes coroner with corner. And if you’re looking for a soundtrack while you read, we have CDs by many of the artists Bri mentions in the book, including J. Cole, Rapsody, Kendrick, and Eric B. & Rakim, and you can stream or download a ton more for free with Hoopla!  

Listen Up! Spring New Music Arrivals

Faded collage of six album covers with the text "Listen Up!" printed over them.

Chase away the clouds with some great new music arrivals. Place your holds now:

Starchild & the New Romantic – Language (Ghostly International) – Down-tempo funk with a retro feel. Artist Bryndon Cook’s music may be a nod to greats like Prince, P-Funk, and Michael Jackson, but the album is far from derivative. It’s more of a homage to those who have come before with the sincerity of a creative and talented musician blazing his own path past the monuments.

Soccer Mommy – Clean (Fat Possum Records) – Dreamy, folky, a little gritty. Singer/songwriter Sophie Allison took what was more or less a home-grown scene of her making via her uploaded music and re-recorded her material into a robust full-length release for a wider audience. The album still has the intimate, personal feel of her earlier recordings, but is more fully realized with the backing of a band. Her material is stripped down, autobiographical, and highly relatable – giving you a window into the life of this very talented young artist on the rise.

Meshell Ndegeocello – Ventriloquism (Naive) – Ndegeocello’s vocals are spare, layered over production that has an almost dreamlike, ambient feel. Her work features interpretations of RnB hits that anyone who came of age in the 80s or 90s will recognize. Each track is less of a cover and more of a reinvention; there is a warmth and mystery to each that makes me think of them as throwback lullabies.

Shopping  – The Official Body (Fatcat Records) – A post-punk concoction that’s a little surf rock, pop, and new wave all in one. If the B-52s and The Slits had a love child, it would sound a little like this album.

No Age – Snares Like a Haircut (Drag City, Inc.) – Lush, full bodied noise-rock. No Age’s fifth studio album shows a maturity of sound that has developed over 13 years of collaboration. The mingling of beauty and turmoil creates an explosive mix of highly enjoyable tracks. Is polished roughness a thing? If so, they’ve nailed it.

Screaming Females – All At Once (Don Giovanni Records) – Alt rock with venue-dominating vocals and a punk vibe. Another release from a veteran act making the list, this is the 11th album for the Screaming Females. Clearly they haven’t lost a step as they continue to push the boundaries of generefication. Special treat for the fans of Fugazi – Brendan Canty makes a guest appearance on drums.

Dabrye – Three/Three (Ghostly International) – Hip hop with strong electronic production. Producer Tadd Mullinix returns to his Dabrye moniker after a long hiatus. His time ‘off’ has been fruitful for his work in different electronic music ventures, but fans of his hip-hop material have long been awaiting this latest release. Three/Three does not disappoint. This album boasts a long list of collaborators staying true to Mullinix’s Michagander roots by highlighting Detroit-area MCs new and old in particular.

Lindi Ortega – Liberty (Shadowbox Music, Inc.) – Dramatic ballads with a Spaghetti-Western flare. Ortega’s beautifully-emotive vocals lend an air of mystery to her tracks. Grab this album and be taken along on a wild ride as each track tells a tale of loss and salvation. I have a soft spot for albums that tell a story and this one delivers a Country Gothic tale worth hearing.

Listen Up! Winter New Music Arrivals

Mosaic of barely visible album covers in a tile formation of 3 x 3. Nine total squares. Superimposed over the album covers are the words "Listen Up!" in a deep red color.

Load up your holds list for all your New Year’s gatherings (or to provide a soundtrack as you have some alone time to recover from all that socializing) – it’s time for the final new music arrival round-up of 2017:

Lucinda Williams – This Sweet Old World (Highway 20 Records) – Twangy, mournful, and full of life’s hard-learned lessons. Williams revisits some of her back catalog, giving a new worn-in and worldly interpretation to some of her earlier works.

Moses Sumney – Aromanticism (Jagjaguwar) – Swoony, ethereal, loungy, and full of eclectic instrumentation with hints of electronic production. Sumney has the kind of falsetto that made me fall in love with Jeff Buckley. For an album that revolves around the rejection of romantic love, I find that kind of funny.

Lindstrøm – It’s Alright Between Us As It Is (Smalltown Supersound/Feedelity) – Bright, poppy, dance-floor-friendly house music with strong cosmic disco overtones.

Porter Ray –  Watercolor (Sub Pop Records) – Seattle rapper Porter Ray’s Sub Pop debut gives a very intimate look into his tumultuous life. Watercolor’s lyrics dive heavily into the artist’s processing of the murder of his brother, Aaron. The tracks have a dreamy, often ominous feel to the production with a blending of current and throwback styles.

Dale Crover – The Fickle Finger of Fate (Joyful Noise Recordings) – After 30 years with the Melvins and early work with Nirvana, drummer Dale Crover aims his skills at a solo project. The album at times can feel a bit disjointed as Crover jumps from style to style – gritty and driving, acoustic and meandering, or even slowly-unwinding noise-rock. If you’re not looking for an album to take you on a journey this shouldn’t be too much of an issue; the ground that’s covered here is covered well.

Simo – Rise & Shine (Provogue) – Simo ventures a little out of their blues rock comfort zone into the uncharted waters of funk, soul, and psychedelia. The resulting fusion leaves the listener with a solid album to jam to at home and promises heat on the stage when touring with this material.

Ariel Pink – Dedicated to Bobby Jameson (Kemado Records, Inc.) – With a title that is a homage to the turbulent life of an outsider musician who was once groomed to give The Beatles a run for their money, Ariel Pink’s latest seems steeped in references to his musical influences. The album has a whimsical though dark feel to it, somewhere between psych-pop and new wave.

Margo Price – All American Made (Third Man Records) – Price comes out swinging with “Don’t Say It,” a rowdy rollicking jam and one way or another she doesn’t let up. This is an album that pulls no punches; it’s a stripped down look at life in America through the eyes of a woman raised in rural America. While this listens like a classic country album, from start to finish it also has the feel of a collection of folk-inspired protest songs that would make Woody, Pete, Joan, or Buffy proud.

Talib Kweli – Radio Silence  (Javotti Media) – In his 8th studio album, Kweli brings you the kind of consistent, compelling music hip-hop fans have come to expect from him. As always, socially conscious lyrics are backed by beats of intricately-woven soul samples studded with collabs and cameos.

John Maus – Screen Memories  (Ribbon Music) – Ever the craftsman, Maus spent the six-year span between albums essentially trying to hand-create electronic music from wires to vinyl, going so far as to build his own modular synth. While he said that the experiment was largely a disappointment, as his creation didn’t sound wildly different from commercially produced equipment, his output on Screen Memories doesn’t let the listener down in any way. This similarity may have more to do with the fact that he’s carefully honed his sound over time, rather than any failings in his synth construction. It’s a nice complement to his older work, showcasing his brooding deep vocals and moody synth-pop aesthetic.

Sly 5th Avenue – The Invisible Man: An Orchestral Tribute to Dr. Dre – This album brings me endless joy. It’s like the thrill of recognizing a favorite song in the QFC Muzak, but far funkier and infinitely more enjoyable. I think any fan of sample-driven music would appreciate what Sly 5th Avenue has accomplished here; it feels like an album just waiting to be remixed, sampled, and molded into new creations.

Ibeyi – Ash (Xl Recordings) – A powerful second album from Ibeyi. This eclectic offering of musical styles defies generification, blending vocal harmonies, minimal electronic production, hints of jazz, hip-hop, soul, and occasional flurries of West African and Yoruba percussive styles. The duo of twin sisters use their songwriting to address some of the violence they have faced as women of color in France, though this is less an album of protest than one of solidarity and strength with others engaged in similar struggles.

Julien Baker – Turn out the Lights (Matador Records) – Soft, slow builds with radiant finishes. Baker’s storytelling skills shine within the musical landscapes she painstakingly crafts.  Heartrendingly soft and beautiful, her often mournful vocals deliver what feels like a deeply personal collection of songs.

Odonis Odonis – No Pop (Felte Records) – Dark, minimal, almost elemental industrial music. No Pop is pretty much right on the nose with the title. This album kind of recreates the feel of early Nine Inch Nails for me. You get an overwhelming sense of a world falling apart, and the desolation that will surely follow the collapse.

Greta Van Fleet – From the Fires (Republic Records) – Short but sweet: if you like Led Zeppelin, you’ll probably find something of interest here.

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.