Just Give Me New Wave (That’s What I Want)

New wave is an elusive musical term. As with many genres, it applies to clothing, hair and makeup as much as it does to a cohesive musical style. In fact, a case could be made that new wave is a time period.

But philosophical emulsifications aside, we can find a few characteristics that are common to most new wave music:

  • It’s dance friendly!
  • Synthesizers play an important role (and this is new in rock music).
  • The music is fairly poppy.
  • Some strange quality, be it flamboyant costumes or Flock-of-Seagulls hair, sets it apart from the mainstream pop music culture.

Group 1

Now, if you live in the hustle and bustle of the 21st century, you might not have time to review a myriad of albums to find out what the new wave is all about. But fear not! Here on a single album we have hit after hit after hit (after hit) from the late 70s and early 80s, a heaping helping of new wave music, all found on New Wave Gold.

Thrill to the tunes of Adam and the Ants, Berlin and The Flying Lizards (their cover of the iconic hit Money (That’s What I Want) is, by itself, worth the price of admission). Never Say Never to Romeo Void. Want some candy? Check out Bow Wow Wow. Wowsers!

Group2

But wait, there’s more! The bizarre vocalizations of Lene Lovich in Lucky Number, the irresistible poppiness of M’s Pop Muzik and that dance to end all dances, The Safety Dance. Not to mention Ian Dury’s most practical of suggestions, to Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick.

Group3

Speaking of lyrics (well, someone must have been!), Missing Persons provides a reminder that nobody walks in LA, Tears for Fears suggests that when it’s all too late you can Change and The Vapors want a doctor to take your picture so they can look at you from inside as well in Turning Japanese (a song of questionable meaning). But most of all, I beg of you, relax, don’t do it!

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The synth-pop of Ultravox, the silliness of The Waitresses and the teen soundtrack of The Psychedelic Furs. All very different yet all considered part of new wave. Truly, there’s more to this genre than music.

So find that perfect place, comfortable yet not sleep-inducing, perhaps filled with tasty snacks, toss New Wave Gold onto the figurative turntable and prepare to be enthralled to the music. Open ears and open minds required. Puffy shirts are optional.

Devo Was Their Name-O!

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

 

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

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


Jocko

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

Enter Are We Not Men?.

Are We

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God made man but a monkey supplied the glue

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

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

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

Tension.

gut-feeling

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

Comfort Music

In times of stress and tribulation, some turn to comfort food. But I find my comfort in music. A single song can change the course of my day for the better. And so today I share with you my Post-Holiday Guide to Comfort Music.

bixOld-timey jazz is one of my go-to genres when seeking comfort. As a former trumpet player I admire the brilliance of Bix Beiderbecke (pronounced Bick Spiderbeck), an extremely influential musician whose heyday was in the 1920s. Bix, as I call him because it’s easier to type, played in a variety of dance bands during his short career (he died at age 28) and left a legacy that persists 100 years later. For your comfort, I recommend Bix Beiderbecke Volume 1, Singin’ the Blues.

bobwillsWestern swing is another source of succor for me, and so I turn to the king of Western swing, Bob Wills. Picture old-time country (you know, the good stuff) combined with big band, except the solos are played on traditional country instruments, and the musical language leans more towards country with a slight nod to jazz… Well, it’s a wonderful hybrid. And for your comfort, try Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys: 1935-1947.

yourhitparadeSpeaking of the 1940s (notice the clever segue), I do love me the purdy songs from those post-war years. Your Hit Parade, The Late ‘40s features fantastic jazz and pop from that golden age. Listening to those tunes I can just picture the yuge tube radio in my neatly trimmed suburban home, slipper-clad feet on the ottoman, wisps of fruity smoke climbing eagerly towards the heavens. Sarah Vaughn interprets Black Coffee as only she can, Tommy Dorsey delivers The Huckle-Buck. Comfort for all.

thompsonFor beautiful Celtic/folk/folk rock/rock, there is none better than Richard Thompson. One of the greatest guitarists ever, Thompson is also a superb songwriter and a most excellent singer. Walking On A Wire (1968 – 2009) is a nice career retrospective, albeit nearly 10 years behind now, ranging from early folksy work with Fairport Convention to more recent rockers like my personal favorite, Bathsheba Smiles. His music is intricacy veiled in the guise of simplicity, complicated guitar paired with delicate melodies, tunes that will stick with you for days. Listening to this man’s music is indeed a comfort.

buzzcocksMoving on to music from my college days, Buzzcocks are a British punk band that started in the late 70s, and 40 years later they’re still going at it! Singles Going Steady is a compilation of their early hits from the 70s and 80s. Unlike what you might think punk is, the songs are catchy pop gems, generally not political, often steeped in teenage experiences, and most assuredly wielding a hard edge. So many good memories, much comfort provided.

ecAnd as the sun sets on today’s music-of-comfort we turn to the best of them all, Elvis Costello. I was first introduced to his music at a high school dance, saw him at my first rock concert, have performed his songs and stolen his dry cleaning (well, not really). Stylistically, this guy is all over the place, from country to jazz to power pop to acoustic rock and everywhere inbetween. His first album, My Aim Is True, remains in my heavy rotation even after 41 years. Songs like Welcome to the Working Week, Alison and Mystery Dance are perfect pop masterpieces. Check him out and you too will receive comfort.

We all need comfort at times and music is an amazing healer. Check out some of these titles, or look into your own favorite genres to find nourishment for the soul. Oh, and let me know if you find my dry cleaning.

What’s New Wave in the Library

I’m a categorizer. Okay, in reality I’m a lazy categorizer. I don’t really care about absolute rigid labels, but when organizing music on my computer (and oh yes I do realize how nerdy that sounds) I like to put bands into categories that make sense to me. When it comes to the term new wave, I tend to think of most any new music I was introduced to from 1979 to the early 80s.

Lately I’ve been trying to get more precise in my labelling, partly because if 1,000 bands all have the same label I can’t find any of them on the computer. So I’ve been moving a lot of bands from new wave into post-punk or punk. But it’s interesting to see that new wave has never been a clearly-defined genre. According to Wikipedia, “the 1985 discography Who’s New Wave in Music listed artists in over 130 separate categories.” One hundred and thirty! So all in all, new wave is a pretty meaningless term.

Yet we continue to use it. So today let us look at what’s new wave in the library.

NW1

One safe bet is Now That’s What I Call New Wave 80s, a compilation featuring bands such as B-52s, Adam Ant, The Go-Gos and many more. It has new wave in the title even! Some of the songs here are the best-known ones by the included bands, but others are not. Quite a mixed bag, which makes it more interesting in my book.

NW2

New York’s CBGB’s was a hotbed of exciting new music in the mid- and late 70s, regularly featuring bands such as Blondie, Ramones and Talking Heads. Many Blondie songs could easily be called pop or disco (although their early less well-known stuff is much more hard-edged), Ramones are often categorized as punk and Talking Heads are labelled post-punk, but when the three groups were starting out they were all called new wave.

NW3

What most people came to think of as new wave was music that I hated at the time, far too mainstream, poppy, and hairstyley. Now that I no longer need to prove how cool I am this music has grown on me. Bands falling under this heading include Tears for Fears, The Fixx and Cyndi Lauper.

NW4

Some new wave bands, such as The Cars, The Police and Duran Duran were quite popular, beloved by people from a cross-section of musical tastes.

NW5

One of the largest sub-genres of new wave is synth pop, music that relies heavily or entirely on synthesizers. Groups in this category include Human League, Yaz and Thomas Dolby.

NW6

Perhaps the ultimate new wave archetype is the literate, nerdy singer-songwriter type. This group includes Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson and Graham Parker. Their songs tend to be thought-provoking and lyrically complex with music ranging from driving pop-rock to ballads and everything in-between.

So there you have it. New wave, meaningless. Music that we call new wave, magnificent. Lots of good music at Everett Public Library. Blog post, finished.

Listen Up! December Wrap-up and New Music Arrivals

Petite Noir Cover

December is here and I’m catching my breath. It’s been a long busy year at the library, and I’ve had a blast working with our music collection. It’s been amazing to see how the unique character of our community influences the music that passes through our doors. Our users help determine what makes it to our shelves via donations, purchase requests, or simply checking certain items out more than others so we know what they like.

Some casual observations: Rock, Country, Latin, and Christian music do a booming business. Hip-hop and Electronic acts are steadily gaining in popularity; there are rarely any purchase requests (hint hint), but the stuff that’s been added goes out quickly and those shelves can look completely ransacked at times. People around here love reggae and Hawaiian music (I think all the rain makes people long for warm sandy beaches). Everett also can’t seem to get enough holiday music – the carts have been out since just past Halloween because people kept asking about them.

One issue that I’ve noticed is that some genres are becoming more difficult to purchase due to changes in technology. Within the Indie, Electronic, and Hip-hop communities, many artists are choosing to go digital-only, or to scrap the use of CDs for throwback media, such as vinyl records and cassette tapes (I’m waiting on the 8-track and wax cylinder revivals). This came into play while working on developing the Local Music collection, because many bands only had digital releases of their albums. The digital-only trend is also a big hurdle for libraries when it comes to adding music from international artists making music in developing countries. Digital releases are far cheaper to produce, market, and distribute, so they’re a natural fit for musicians who are working with a tight budget. There are online services available that allow libraries to loan digital music. They wouldn’t do much to remedy this issue, however, since they mainly provide pre-selected packages of albums from major labels. Hopefully this is something that will change in the near future, because there’s a lot of great music out there that we’d love to share with our users.

I’m looking forward to seeing what 2016 brings to Everett. We’re a vibrant city with a lot of creative people and a thriving musical scene. You can help be a part of that growth: if you hear of a great new act, local or otherwise, drop our reference librarians a line and we’ll see what we can do. Now on to those December picks (I’ll keep it short!).

Empress Of CoverEmpress Of – Me (Terrible Records) – A lively combination of dance, pop, and rock, very reminiscent of Bjork’s early material. Lorely Rodriguez’s voice somehow manages to be strong and ethereal almost in the same breath. Her lyrics are deeply personal and rich in storytelling, flitting through scenes of a failed romance while making you want to dance away her angst.

Petite Noir – La Vie Est Belle (Domino Recording Company) – Bright, beautiful, and insanely catchy. Yannick Ilunga calls his sound Noirwave, and you can definitely see his New Wave influences winding through, track by track. In the end, the album really defies description. New wave, hip hop, electronic, or rock, plus subtle hints of Ilunga’s Congolese and Angolan musical roots – each element fuses together into a satisfyingly-complex new sound.

Car Seat Headrest coverCar Seat Headrest – Teens of Style (Matador Records) – After releasing an impressive 15 albums on the indie music selling site Bandcamp, former solo-artist Will Toledo and his band have come out with their first album on the legendary Matador Records. Did I mention that he managed all this before turning 23? Bright, airy, and guitar-driven, I expect to hear more wonderful things from this band in their 2016 release, Teens of Denial.

Future Shock – Secret Weapon EP (Future Shock) – Continuing on the new wave tip, this mysteriously-masked Seattle Duo calls their sound Afro New Wave. With production by RayGun and lyrics by The Doctor, this EP comes across sounding like David Bowie, Marilyn Manson, and Duran Duran got together and laid down some tracks. From start to finish the Secret Weapon EP is a solid album that leaves you looking for more.

Protomartyr CoverProtomartyr – Agent Intellect (Hardly Art) Dark, brooding, driving post-punk. This album sounds like a grey winter day – perfect for your winter angst.

Roots Manuva – Bleeds (Big Dada) U.K. hip-hop pioneer returns with his first release in nearly four years. Stripped-down, tight production showcases the kind of political lyricism I’ve come to expect from Roots Manuva.

Basement Jaxx – Junto Remixed (Pias America) A full roster of clubby, dancefloor-ready tracks. The vibe of this release is about 50/50 house and techno, but there’s a little flirtation with footwork in there. Overall it’s a really versatile collection of remixes.

Place your holds now, and see you in the new year!

I Used to Be Cool

duran-duran-1981

It’s official. I’m no longer cool. Admittedly, my coolness peaked a long time ago (we are talking the late 80s to early 90s) and it is true that my coolness may have been just in my head. That hasn’t kept me from clinging to the illusion of coolness for decades, however. The latest example of my extreme distance for all that is hip and happening (see I don’t even know what term to use) recently came in an unexpected area. The Dewey 780s range to be exact.

This year I’ve been ordering the musician and band biographies. As the year has progressed, I’ve been excited to be able to order books about bands, artists, and musical movements that I’ve always thought of as cool. Sadly as these books have come in, I’ve begun to realize that many are retrospectives with an emphasis on how great the band/artist/movement used to be and their importance to music history. Clearly I can no longer think I’m hip because I like New Order.

Even so, all of these books are a lot of fun and well worth your reading time, no matter what your position on the coolness spectrum.

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Mellencamp: American Troubadour by David Masciotra
Even if you aren’t from the Midwest and grew up in a big town, John Mellencamp’s music and career is worth looking into. Sure he had that whole weird name change thing as he was starting out, but that was the music company’s fault, man. This biography sets out to reassess and appreciate a musical talent that is often overlooked.

New Order by Kevin Cummins
This collection of over a hundred photographs of the band, from their formation in 1980 to their initial breakup in 1993, is a fun and admittedly nostalgic trip. Come for the cool haircuts and skinny ties, stay for the really great music.

The History of Canadian Rock ‘n’ Roll by Bob Mersereau
I know Canada doesn’t scream cool for many, but when I was growing up in Northern Wisconsin their music was definitely an influence. This book will give you all the details on the rock history of our brothers to the north. Not to make you jealous, but back in the day I saw Corey Hart live in Kaukauna. Wait, that doesn’t sound impressive…

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Let’s go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain by Alan Light
A film, an album, and a cultural phenomenon, Purple Rain continues to cast a long shadow on the cultural landscape. This book will tell you how the diminutive legend from Minneapolis got his unique sound and vision to the masses.

Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists by Lori Majewski
A collection of recent interviews with member of the more influential New Wave bands including The Smiths, Tears for Fears, Adam Ant, Echo and the Bunnymen, Devo, New Order, The Thompson Twins, INXS and many more. Sounds like a great retro MTV music video mix list as well.

The Big Book of Hair Metal by Martin Popoff
I’ll admit I tended to look down at ‘hair bands’ back in the day. But does that mean I can’t hum along with several Motley Crue, Ratt, Bon Jovi and even Poison songs? Absolutely not. This well researched and entertaining look at a colorful and well moussed musical phenomenon just might increase my appreciation.

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Dancing with Myself by Billy Idol
I lot of factors make Billy Idol who he is: The snarl, the fist pump, the spiky blond hair, the amazing fact that he is still alive. This autobiography tells of his life’s highs and lows with a characteristically unapologetic and in your face attitude. Would you expect anything else? Would you?!

Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon
This memoir from Kim Gordon, a founding member of Sonic Youth, is more than a simple history of the band she was a part of for so many years. Instead it is a memoir of her upbringing in Southern California, the gritty 1980s New York music scene, her marriage, motherhood and everything in between. A good read even if you aren’t into their music. Though, why wouldn’t you be?

Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink by Elvis Costello
You will have to wait until the fall to get your hands on this memoir from Mr. Costello but it is sure to be worth the wait. Always unconventional and ever-changing, it should be a kick to get his thoughts on all the great music he has created over the years. To prepare for the book’s release and to better appreciate the man and his music, check out fellow blogger Ron’s appropriately titled post The One and Only Elvis.

While my musical tastes are clearly no longer cool, there is one silver lining. As all these great books point out, the music created in my heyday has clearly influenced the new music coming out today. Luckily I can follow Lisa’s excellent new music blog posts to find out which new bands might appeal to me. Viet Cong, the band not the political movement, rocks! Now if they would only put on some skinny ties and a little eyeliner.