Staff Picks: Music
I wasn’t a huge fan of Vampire Weekend before the release of their third album but I have to admit, I think they’ve hit on something special with their newest, Modern Vampires of the City. Their music is still as erudite and as catchy as ever, but where their early output came across as precious and affected, the new tunes exhibit an abundance of creative skill, lyrical depth and narrative complexity. One of the best albums of 2013, get your ears on it.
Modern Vampires of the city
Yep, she's done it again. Eleanor Friedberger, formerly of the brother/sister duo The Fiery Furnaces has released her sophmore album Personal Record and it's as great as her 2011 debut Last Summer. Friedberger composes quirky, idiosynchratic lyrics that blend seemlessly with her equally unique and recognizable voice. The music is smart, immaculately recorded pop-rock that is both innovative and endlessly catchy. Pick it up and crank it loud.
To me, listening to an Iron and Wine album has always felt a little like being alone on a back porch with Sam Beam while he tells you secrets. How do you make that sound better? Just add horns. Ghost on Ghost, his fifth studio album, has not lost that intimate quality, but it has gained interesting musical complexity. The depth is still mainly in the vocals, but there is more to enjoy in the spaces in between. If you are a little bit folk, a little bit funk, and dig a good jazz solo, then you are likely to really enjoy this release.
Ghost on Ghost
In 2001 the way the world listens to music changed when Apple introduced the iPod. Two years later, the iTunes Store opened for business offering owners of iPods a virtual place to purchase music. Over the past ten years billions of songs have been downloaded to the many Apple iOS devices. Some would argue that iTunes has destroyed the idea of a “traditional” album, but others claim that more people listen to different music because it is easier to access music. No matter how you feel, it is hard to deny that iTunes is the “King of all Media Delivery Systems.”
I was curious to find out what the most played song was in the iTunes libraries of the staff at KPL. The answers not only provided me with insight on the listening habits of staff, but also inspired me to seek out the stuff in the library.
The most played song in my iTunes library is Matthew Sweet’s “I’ve Been Waiting” from his 1991 album, Girlfriend. When I think about why this particular song is on top of the list, I recall the summer when both my daughters requested to listen to it multiple times. They liked to roll down the windows and sing along to infectious tune. My guess is the top tracks from other staff have a similar story.
• “Too Late” by Shoes, Karl Knack, Audio Visual
•“Fluorescent Adolescent” by Arctic Monkeys, Anne Herrington, Law Library
• “Plasticities” by Andrew Bird, Susan Lindemann, Facilities Management
• “Teenage Riot” by Sonic Youth, Michael Cockrell, Adult Services
•“Feels Like Home” by Edwina Hayes, Jill Lansky, Teen Services
• “Gobbledigook” by Sigur Ros, Rick Hale, Patron Services
•“Baby Girl” by Sugarland, Andrea Vernola, Youth Services
• “Dirty Little Secret” by All-American Rejects, Wendy Hand, IT
• “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” by Michael Jackson, Angela Fortin, Oshtemo
• “Myth” by Beach House, Ryan Gage, Audio Visual
Fans of The Raveonettes, The Smith Westerns, Night Moves, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Suede, and Arcade Fire will find something in the cliché-bloated anthem rock of the band The Guards and their newest long player, In Guards We Trust. There’s nothing particular inspiring about this record given it treads over familiar ground with its thick use of dense, multi-track vocals and heavy coats of reverb that does well to cover the rather innocuous nature of the songwriting, but then again, if you’re only looking for a couple of good songs to bob your head to while heading to the beach this summer, give it a try.
In Guards We Trust
Two of today’s best musical young guns that have delivered strong albums this year are Jake Bugg and Caitlin Rose. They don’t shy away from their influences but they don’t let those who paved the musical highway for them subsume their individual voices either. Gritty and fashionable enough for the with-it crowd and accessible enough for those who have an Oasis or Taylor Swift album in their collection, these two will hopefully be in it for the long haul. Bugg has been compared to Dylan (who hasn’t?) but his brand of neo-folk has as many roots in Brit Pop. Sure, he evokes both Dylan and Donovan from time to time but he makes it work because of his lyrical earnestness and the sheer catchiness of the tunes. Rose also wrote the album that Swift only can dream that she had created. These are confidently written songs sung by a fresh voice who no doubt has listened to a few Jayhawks albums over the years. Check them both out!
Fans of his band the New Pornographers will find much to like when listening to A.C. Newman’s newest solo album Shut Down the Streets. Newman is one of power pops most prolific and talented stewards and yet while there are plenty of energetic, signature anthems to chant to this summer while headed to the beach, his newest batch of songs takes a more personal and introspective turn.
Several years ago, the band Vampire Weekend were notable for successfully bringing to the ears of listeners of indie rock an Afro Pop sensibility to their catchy, pop songs. The Florida band Surfer Blood also weaves together a variety pack of genres including surf rock (Dick Dale, The Ventures), fuzzy power pop (Weezer, Waaves,The Shins) and subtle hints of Afro Pop rhythms that never sound out of place or gratuitous. Their 2010 album Astro Coast perfectly captures much of how today’s best indie rock groups are concerned with writing catchy, dance-friendly tunes, but doing so with the kitchen sink of instrumentation and influence at their disposal.
One of the best albums of 2013 is Youth Lagoon’sWonderous Bughouse. This band knows how to bug out with effortlessly, rolling psych-pop that will get inside your brain, pitch a tent and remain there for hours afterward. Fans of The Flaming Lips, Beach House, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, MGMT and Sparklehorse will find much to like about this sonic flood of colorful melodies and low-end production.
A friend from Seattle turned me on to the music of Damien Jurado a couple of years ago so I was excited to stumble on a new cd of his, Maraqopa, as I browsed the KPL new music section. Now I can't stop listening to this mixture of what Larry Fitzmaurice at Pitchfork calls, "soft-psych freak-outs, rainy folk, haunted 1960's pop, and slow-burning oddball sparseness." I googled Jurado and found out I'm a Johnny-come-lately to his music as he has been around since the mid 90's, releasing albums with Sub Pop Records and now with a label based in Indiana called Secretly Canadian. If you like Neil Young and the Fleet Foxes give Jurado a try or come and browse our music section and see what you discover.
Last week, I wrote about the passing of Alvin Lee, arguably one of the world’s great guitarists. They always say these things happen in threes.
Just a few weeks beforehand, February 18 to be exact, we lost Kevin Ayers. Ayers was a key player in Britain’s Canterbury scene during the late 1960s. He was a founding member of the band Soft Machine, and an active solo artist. Ayers’ list of early collaborators reads like a Who’s Who of influential artists; from Brian Eno, Nico and John Cale (June 1, 1974), to Floydian madman Syd Barrett, Elton John, Robert Wyatt, Mike Oldfield, and others. His first solo album, Joy of a Toy, was released on EMI’s new Harvest label in 1969, right beside early (now classic) releases by Deep Purple and Pink Floyd. His sixteenth and last studio album, The Unfairground, was released in 2007 to much acclaim. Ayers was 68.
This week, one more member of “British Rock Royalty” joined his departed contemporaries. Peter Banks was a founding member and the original guitarist in the prog band Yes. He was featured on the band’s first two recordings, Yes and Time and a Word, before being replaced by Steve Howe in 1970. He achieved a certain degree of success with the UK band Flash during the mid-1970s. An occasional series of solo albums followed during the 1990s. Banks passed away in London on March 8 at the age of 65.
Some great early footage of Yes with Peter Banks (and later with Steve Howe) follows...
The Unfairground by Kevin Ayers
The music world bid farewell to another guitar great on Wednesday with the passing of Alvin Lee. During the late 1960s and 1970s, the British born Lee fronted the band Ten Years After, and set the world on fire at the Woodstock Festival in August 1969 with “I’m Going Home.” Lee was known for his lightning fast guitar work and sensitive interpretations of blues standards and his own compositions. Lee recorded nearly 30 studio and live albums during his career—to this day, Ten Years After Recorded Live remains one of my own “desert island” selections… most notably for its incendiary cover of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Help Me.” His latest album, Still on the Road to Freedom, was released last year. Lee was 68.