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.

X Marks the Spot

LosAngeles

Music is filled with infinite possibilities but musicians use few of them. Hence, a whole lot of music sounds like a whole lot of other music. In some ways, this isn’t a bad thing; listeners take comfort in the familiar. On the other hand, BORING!

But not all composers and performers are boring. Thankfully. Witness if you will the Los Angeles band known only as X. Formed in 1977, one of the first wave of American punk bands, X has forged a unique sound that has yet to be imitated.

For me, the trademark X sound is defined by the harmonies between John Doe and Exene Cervenka. Punk rock generally does not use harmony, and pop/rock in general doesn’t use the semi-dissonant croonings that are part and parcel of X. Take for example the song The World’s a Mess, It’s In My Kiss off of the band’s brilliant debut, Los Angeles. Doe and Cervenka careen between expected and unexpected pitch combinations, creating an extra level of tension that fits the lyrics quite nicely:

No one is united
And all things are untied
Perhaps we’re boiling over inside
They’ve been telling lies
Who’s been telling lies?
There are no angels
There are devils in many ways
Take it like a man

Another piece of the puzzle that is X is found in Billy Zoom, guitarist extraordinaire. You can always find Billy standing on the stage with legs planted far apart, smiling at the audience whilst playing rockabilly-tinged leads effortlessly. Once again, not so much a punk thing. Zoom, whose father played woodwinds in big bands, was 29 when the band formed. He definitely had a different point of view than your average 16-year-old who’d never touched an instrument but wanted to start a punk band. If you want to hear a good example of Billy’s rockabilly roots in the music of X, check out the intro, verse and solo in Johnny Hit and Run Paulene.

Producer and keyboardist Ray Manzarek, formerly of the Doors (yes, those Doors), is also fundamental to X’s sound on Los Angeles. For those not familiar with the Doors, their music doesn’t share much in common with the punk world. Hippy organ fills and aggressive stripped-down rock just do not seem like a match made in rockstar heaven. But the result is fabulous, as can be heard on X’s hyperactive cover of the Door’s Soul Kitchen as well as the relentless punk anthem Nausea:

Today, you’re gonna be sick, so sick
You’ll prop your forehead on the sink,
Say, “Oh Christ, oh Jesus Christ,
My head’s gonna crack like a bank.”

And Nausea finds the organ playing an important role, creating primitive atonal flourishes as the lead-in to verses. Everyone else simply hammers away incessantly, as if to give a pounding headache to the purveyor of the lyrics.

40 years later X continues to tour. Billy is now 69, a cancer survivor, still smiling. John Doe and Exene, married when the group formed, are long since divorced. But the band’s high-octane energy and love for the music still comes through during performances. And if you can’t see them live, check out the documentary The Decline of Western Civilization for a thorough education in the late 70s Los Angeles punk lifestyle.

And be sure to say, “Hi!” to Billy.

I’m Not An Animal!

Ah, once again it’s those lazy, hazy (dare I say crazy?) days of summer when a young man’s thoughts turn to hydroplanes and water cannons. And The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle. And lime rickeys. But mostly to the Swindle.

Punk rock was doomed from its beginning. Any art form that’s do-it-yourself, non-mainstream rebellion against commercial art is eventually going to become codified and commercially successful on some level, thus transforming into the very thing that it mocks. The Sex Pistols, who defined punk rock, also defined the death of punk. Formed in 1975, dead in 1978, the Pistols’ influence is immeasurable, but their existence was quite short.

I’ve come to realize that by the time I was listening to the punk rock in Suburbia, USA (which was before most of my suburban contemporaries) it was no longer even a going concern. In January 1978, Johnny Rotten quit the Sex Pistols. He wanted to create groundbreaking music, not something that fit into the punk formula. It was probably another year before I even discovered the Pistols, dead on arrival.

BollocksThe lads only put out one official album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, but it provided fodder for a generation of musicians. Harkening back to a simpler time in the rock & roll world, a time of three chords and reckless abandon, the Pistols’ music provided welcome relief to the ever-more-complex album-oriented-rock of the 70s. Suddenly, it was okay for anyone to make music, to make a record. This above all else provided immeasurable influence on future musicians.

LiveIn addition to Never Mind the Bollocks, a variety of unofficial and semi-official releases have surfaced over the years. One of these is Live & Loud, a recording from the Pistols’ last show (other than reunions), January 14, 1978. Perhaps not the best collection to use as an introduction to the band, this raw recording does give the listener a chance to hear the seminal punk band live, 40 years after the fact!

SwindleAfter this performance Mr. Rotten quit the group, but the rest of the band carried on long enough to record a few songs for Malcolm McLaren’s 1980 mockumentary, The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle. McLaren was the Pistols’ manager, having created them in much the same manner as the Monkees had been put together 10 years before. The posthumous movie purported to be about the Sex Pistols and McLaren, but it was actually more along the lines of A Hard Day’s Night. And, perhaps most importantly to Sex Pistols fans, it included footage of the band.

The film’s soundtrack is a veritable melting pot of genres and quality, ranging from raw Sex Pistols demos to a disco Pistol medley to Sid Vicious croaking his way through Frank Sinatra territory. It’s not really an album that one sits down with to enjoy song after song. Rather, it’s a spectacle filled with piratey choruses, French folk music and a generous helping of covers. The disc appeals to me in the same way as Eraserhead or a nine-car pileup on the interstate: I can’t seem to look away.

So as the sun rises high in the sky and threatens to boil the whites of your eyes, keep cool with the Pistols. I think we can all agree that they said it best in their song Bodies:

I’m not a throbbing squirm

P.S. Don’t forget the lime rickey.

D-M-U-B, Everyone’s Accusing Me!

Let’s talk about the Ramones, shall we?

Few American bands have made a bigger impact than this group of leather-clad mutants. As early as 1974 their proto-punk cum beach-pop refrains filled the hippest clubs of New York City, poised to influence the next wave of bands. In a way, their music was a return to early rock & roll, simple and short three-chord songs, but with a bit of a buzzsaw edge grafted on for the kids.

RockNRollHighSchoolI don’t know exactly when I first heard the Ramones, but I do know that seeing the movie Rock ‘n’ Roll High School instantly made them one of my favorite groups. They came across as a bad-boy version of the Monkees, riding around in a red 1959 Cadillac with the license plate GABBA-GABBA-HEY. Unlike your typical lead singer, Joey Ramone was a tall, skinny, shall we say less-than-comely example of a man. Leather jackets, long hair, no attempt to be pretty teen idols, low-slung guitars, blisteringly short songs… In short, they created the punk sensibility.

 

Pinhead lyrics

GreatestHitsAs one can see, it doesn’t take much in the way of lyrics to create a Ramones song. Pinhead, from the 1977 album Leave Home, clocks in at 2:42, but the excerpt above contains all of its lyrics except for one sentence. The first line comes from the 1932 movie Freaks, where it’s a phrase used by the sideshow performers. This perhaps is a nutshell view of the Ramones’ appeal to teen me: catchy songs about unusual or disturbing topics. You can find this song at Everett Public Library on a CD that’s an outstanding introduction to the Ramones, Greatest Hits: Hey Ho Let’s Go.

 

Sedated lyrics

RoadToRuinI Wanna Be Sedated, off of 1978’s Road to Ruin, is another strange little pop gem. Apparently focused on an anxiety attack or some other mental issue, beach pop once again melds with a hard and dark edge to create an unholy mixture of proto-punk. I can picture Joey now, unflattering haircut, ugly glasses, ripped jeans, all somehow adding up to charisma and charm. Prepare yourself for 2:29 of leather-clad heaven.

 

Lobotomy
RocketToRussiaThe song that might have forever endeared the Ramones to me is Teenage Lobotomy, featuring the rhyme, “Now I guess I’ll have to tell ‘em, that I got no cerebellum.” And the opening chant of, “Lobotomy! Lobotomy!”? You simply don’t find this kinda lyric in your typical punk rock song. From Rocket to Russia, which was released in 1977, Teenage Lobotomy is one of the Ramones’ most popular songs, and this amuses me highly.

Their long-range influence can be seen in punk bands from the 90s that imitated the Ramones’ sound, and in some cases covered entire Ramones’ albums. Check out the band Screeching Weasel on Physical Fatness: Fat Music Volume III and early Green Day on their 1992 release Kerplunk!.

The Ramones broke up in 1996 after 22 years of practically non-stop touring. In a relatively short time Joey (2001), Dee Dee (2002) and Johnny (2004) died, leaving a gaping hole in the rock and roll world. But fear not! Their music lives on, and you can even see a female Ramones tribute band, The Dee Dees, playing at clubs in Seattle. In the meantime, settle back in a comfy chair, grab a slice of pizza and crank up Teenage Lobotomy. In the immortal words of Johnny Ramone in Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, “Things sure have changed since we got kicked out of high school.”

Listen Up! The Donations Edition

Collage of Album Covers

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

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

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

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

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

Punk 101

When rock and roll began to coalesce in the 1950s, it was a dangerous music, unsuitable for respectable persons. Over time, the sharp edge of menace grew dull and was replaced by a thin gruel of antiseptic multi-tracking and endless guitar/keyboard/drum solos.

Or something like that.

The point being, popular music was ripe for revolution. Enter punk rock.

Punk1

There are as many shades of punk as there are of (wait for the semi-literary reference) grey. My first exposure to the music was in the late 70s/early 80s, which is right about when punk was transforming from one thing to another. Early punk, which traces its roots back to the late 60s in the music of The Stooges and MC5, was a clear outgrowth of early rock and roll: three chords, simple songs, repetitive. Perhaps most importantly, it embodied a do-it-yourself revolution. Anyone could pick up an instrument (although drum sets should be left on the floor) and create music. This was a far cry from progressive rock which required instrumental virtuosity. Punk was soon to move to hardcore which was faster, louder, often angry, and to me remote from the roots of rock and roll.

Punk2

Here’s an interesting fact about me. Well, a fact at any rate. For the past 35 years I’ve been certain that I don’t like punk rock. Oh sure, I’ve seen the Dead Kennedys twice, X, Iggy Pop, and The Clash; I own every Ramones album; Buzzcocks are one of my favorite groups; I played in a punk band… Why Mr. Burger, the answer is evident: Our author is a punk! The truth is, I don’t think of the groups I love as punk. Early 80s hardcore groups like Minor Threat, extremely aggressive and, at least in my mind, unquenchably angry, defined the one and only brand of punk. Anything similar that I liked I thought of as new wave or some other safe label.

But guess what? Punk comes in many flavors.

Punk3

Any of these bands are a good start for your introduction to punk, but today we’ll look at the amazing debut album of the Dead Kennedys, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables. This San Francisco band remains unique in the world of American punk, featuring musicians who are equally at home playing vicious vitriolic anthems, riffing on jazzy chord progressions or tying Elvis Presley songs to the rooftop rack of a nitro burning dragster. Led by the indescribable Jello Biafra, these four lads exploded on the punk scene in a napalm-encased conflagration of politics, disturbing imagery, humor and top-notch musicianship. Biafra’s voice is immediately recognizable and his performances are steeped in a teapot of dramatics.

Perhaps one of the most endearing qualities of the band is the combination of serious political lyrics and disturbing imagery with happy-go-lucky music. Take this excerpt from Let’s Lynch the Landlord, backed by some of the happiest music you’ll ever hear:

I tell him, “Turn on the water!”
I tell ‘im, “Turn on the heat!”
Tells me, “All you ever do is complain, yeah.”
Then they search the place when I’m not here
But we can, you know we can
Let’s lynch the landlord man

Guitarist East Bay Ray, a clear influence on my own playing, remains one of my favorites. His lines fit the DK’s songs perfectly while taking unexpected wanderings into deep, dark cobweb-obscured corners, corners revealed only by Ray’s brain-tingling, ice-pick-toting guitar licks. Not typical punk guitaristing.

So there you have it, Punk 101. Take a chance and check out one of the library’s offerings. And look for more punk albums to join the collection in the future. If the punks are united, they will never be divided.

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.