Staff Picks: Music
One of my personal goals for 2014 was to try and find a way into jazz music. It has always been a genre of music I’ve had difficulty understanding, so I wanted to discover if I could learn to appreciate it. Another reason is that my 13 year old daughter, Abigail, is a HUGE fan of Miles Davis so I wanted to share something with her on the car rides to her various extra-curricular activities. On a whim, I checked outTime Out by The Dave Brubeck Quartet which has become the first course in my jazz education. My instructor was Abigail who pointed out how the timing of each song was different. We continued to discuss the unique blend of cool and West Coast jazz that Brubeck made popular. I then had to research the story behind Time Out and discovered that the time signatures Brubeck used were very unusual and groundbreaking at the time. He was inspired by Turkish street musicians while touring Eurasia for the US State Department. I was amazed at the story behind the origins of the record as well as how my daughter was able to pick up on the innovative style of The Dave Brubeck Quartet. I am truly excited to enter 2014 looking forward to learning from a 13 year old jazz head. Maybe she will teach her old punk rock dad how to love the music that truly symbolizes the American spirit. If not I cannot find my way past Brubeck and Davis, I at least get to spend some time with my daughter. Whatever the result, I win.
It happens every year. Right after I send in my “Best of 2013” list for the KPL website, I discover a great movie, book or CD. This time it was a CD that I had listened to once, but never got into it at the time – I Hate Music by Superchunk. If you are a fan of this great indie quartet from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, then you already know that they deliver an infectious, high energy sound that is loud and short in the tradition of old school punk rock. The newest album delivers the classic Superchunk sound (one critic has coined a phrase to describe their sound – “Superchunky.”) with songwriting that has definitely matured since their early days. Lead singer, Mac McCaughan, sings about death, love and mortality while the rest of the band walks a fine line between punk and power pop. The best track of the album wins the award for being the best song under two minutes, “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo,” a track about the power of music in our lives. The song is about how music can’t bring anyone back from the dead, but it doesn’t mean it cannot make a difference in people’s lives. The video is uplifting and totally worth two minutes of your life. So consider I Hate Music by Superchunk, an addition to my “Best of 2013” list.
I Hate Music
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
One of the best alt-country CDs of 2012 was Rhett Miller’s, The Dreamer. Miller, the longtime front man of the Old 97’s, has once again proven that he is one of the best songwriters in music. What I love best about Miller’s solo material is that he is not afraid to dabble in many different music styles, like power pop and folk. The Dreamer is pure alt-country and closer to a new Old 97’s record than his previous releases.
The first track “Lost Without You” starts slow then picks up with a twangy edge that mixes perfectly with Miller’s voice. The song “Out of Love” blends aspects of power pop with the unmistakable instrumentation of bluegrass. “As Close As I Came to Being Right,” a duet with the great Rosanne Cash, is as close as you can get to a perfect alt-country love song. Miller is an underrated talent that deserves more accolades for his contributions.
After listening to The Dreamer you will realize that at its core, Miller has crafted a letter to the idea of love in all its forms. Check it out and treat yourself to a late Valentine.
Rhett Miller - The Dreamer
I love the annual “Best of 2012” lists. As a huge music fan, I pour over these lists and compare what I picked up over the year to what is actually on the list. KPL staff have been posting our lists each of the past few years and I hope you have had a chance to check out my favorite CDs (The list only contains CDs in KPL’s collection.) In my opinion, 2012 was an incredible year for music! What impressed me the most is that one-third of the list contained debut albums. Below is a “mixtape” of my favorite tracks from each album on the list.
“The Way We Move” by Langhorne Slim
“Hold On” by Alabama Shakes
“Pretty Girl From Michigan” by The Avett Brothers
“Clear Eye Clouded Mind” by Nada Surf
“The Crane Wife 1, 2, and 3” by The Decemberists
“Sixteen Saltines” byJack White
“Mountain Sound” by Of Monsters and Men
“Flapper Girl” by The Lumineers
“North Side Gal” by JD McPherson
“Emmylou” by First Aid Kit
“Lost Without You” by Rhett Miller
“Duquesne Whistle” by Bob Dylan
“Here in the Deadlights” by Brendan Benson
“Lakeside View Apartments Suite” by The Mountain Goats
“Take A Walk” by Passion Pit
langhorne slim and the law
Many consider music today completely derivative of the past. Artists are not creating anything that is truly unique. I totally disagree. Check out these artists who have produced unique spins on classic styles. All of the CDS are debut efforts and do not require a Flux Capacitor.
Boys & Girls by Alabama Shakes– Lead singer Brittany Howard’s voice is packed with the perfect combination of soul and rock that will immediately knock you out of your chair. She is backed by an amazing band and together they are reintroducing new listeners to the unique power of good old fashion rock straight from the southern swamps. Best tracks: Hold On, I Found You, Hang Loose, I Ain’t the Same, Heavy Chevy
My Head is an Animal by Of Monsters and Men– This six-piece band from Iceland formed just to enter a national battle of the bands competition in 2010. The band’s sound is huge and monstrous – lush harmonies, surging guitars and one big horn all come together attack your senses. It is folk-rock that comes at you full on. Best tracks:Little Talks, Dirty Paws, Mountain Sound, Slow and Steady
Signs & Signifiers by JD McPherson– Does this guy own a time machine? I have been looking for days at old Rock n’ Roll photos from the 50’s to see if I could find him in the background. McPherson is a former punk rocker turned rockabilly is bopping out music similar to Buddy Holly, Little Richard and Chuck Berry. He used vintage equipment and microphones on his debut to take you on a trip to the past. Best tracks:North Side Gal, Fire Bug, B.G.M.O.S.R.N.R., Scandalous
Signs & Signifiers
When Adam “MCA” Yauch of the Beastie Boys died of cancer at the age of 47 on May 4, I immediately remembered when I first heard the band’s breakthrough release Licensed to Ill. I was working at a small town record store in a commuter town just outside of Detroit and it was standard practice for record companies to send music for in store promotion. When I unboxed that week’s offerings, I was immediately drawn not only to the iconic image of an airplane, but also the band’s name. Immediately I tore off the shrink wrap and dropped the needle on the vinyl. Until that moment I had no interest in rap or hip-hop, but the Beastie Boys’ rhymes instantly stole away my 15 year-old disdain for this style of music. MCA’s gruff atypical rap style on the record specifically drew me into Licensed to Ill. When he raps “That hypocrite smokes two packs a day…” on “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party),” MCA was letting me know that he sympathized with the mixed messages adults often dispense. There is really not a weak track on this record and for years the cassette was a constant companion as I traversed the hell that was adolescence. “Paul Revere,” “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” and “Girls” were all played at high volumes that year. After hearing of Yauch’s death I celebrated his contribution to both music and my teen years by driving down Westnedge Ave., “Brass Monkey” blasting from my car.
I was thrilled to finally check out the newest CD from electronic music legend Thomas Dolby, A Map of the Floating City, but not because I wanted to hear his new music. The reason was the album cover because it was designed by local artist and award-winning comic creator, Paul Sizer. Dolby could not have selected a better designer than Sizer to create a cover that conveyed his feeling of a “dystopian vision of the 1940s that might have existed had WWII turned out a lot differently.” Sizer has a strong history of crafting books like Little White Mouse and Moped Army, with bleak futures that contain strong characters not only struggling for survival, but also fighting for what is right. His “steampunk” style of art works extremely well with Dolby’s theme for the CD. It will remind you classic pulp fiction that Sizer has expertly updated for today’s fan. Paul can now add awesome album cover designer to his resume. I will now go listen to the CD.
A Map of the Floating City
I will admit that after reading the description of Ernest Cline’s new book, Ready Player One all of my inner-geek alarms went to Red Alert! Any science fiction novel with video game, movie, TV, role playing game and music references directly from the 1980’s is a book I want to read. Cline did not fail me and has written easily one of the most entertaining books of the year. You can read Teen Librarian, Stewart Fritz’s excellent review of the novel to learn about the story, but I want to talk about the music.
Cline did a magnificence job of mining the rich music of the decade that helped usher in the popularity of hip-hop, indie, new wave, and techno. I could not help but craft a playlist of the great tracks featured in the book.
1. Wild Boys – Duran Duran
2. Beds Are Burning – Midnight Oil
3. Blue Monday – New Order
4.Union of the Snake – Duran Duran
5. Rebel Yell – Billy Idol
6. James Brown Is Dead – L.A. Style
7. Time After Time – Cyndi Lauper
8. Atomic – Blondie
9. A Million Miles Away – The Plimsouls
10. Change – John Waite
11. Rock Me Amadeus – Falco
12. In Your Eyes – Peter Gabriel
13. In My Dreams – Dokken
14. Pac-Man Fever – Buckner & Garcia
15. Tank – Yoko Kanno and the Seatbelts
16. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap – AC/DC
17. Subdivisions - Rush
Ready player one : a novel
I love to make music mixes for my friends. When I can get the response, “Wow I never would have listened to that song if it wasn’t on the mix you made me,” I feel like I have done my part to push good music out into the world. My seven year old daughter considers a good mix one in which you can roll down the windows and turn up the volume. Below is a playlist that consists of what I feel are the best tracks of the first six months of 2011. Mix it up and roll down your windows.
1. Weekend by Smith Westerns (Dye It Blonde)
2. Take Me Over by Cut Copy (Zonoscope)
3. Rolling In The Deep by Adele (21)
4. Sad Song by The Cars (Move Like This)
5. Discoverer by R.E.M. (Collapse Into Now)
6. Me, Me, Me by Middle Brother (Middle Brother)
7. Make Some Noise by The Beastie Boys (Hot Sauce Committee Part Two)
8. Dig A Little Deeper by Peter Bjorn and John (Gimme Some)
9. Don’t Carry It All by The Decemberists (The King Is Dead)
10. Barton Hollow by The Civil Wars (Barton Hollow)
11. Sim Sala Bim by Fleet Foxes (Helplessness Blues)
12. Shadow of Love by Sloan (The Double Cross)
13. Helena Beat by Foster the People (Foster the People)
14. If I Wanted Someone by Dawes (Nothing Is Wrong)
15. Future Starts Now by The Kills (Blood Pressures)
16. Till I Get There by Lupe Fiasco (Lasers)
17. Damn These Vampires by The Mountain Goats (All Eternals Deck)
At best I would say that the new music released so far in 2011 has been so-so. The best CD by far has to be The King is Dead, the newest from the Portland based band The Decemberists. Lead singer Colin Meloy has never hidden his love for extremely smart lyrics that make listeners feel that they are in a college level Literature course. The new CD not only has songs with beautiful language and obscure subject matter, but also a musical sound that pays homage to the alternative sound of the 80’s. The extremely talented musicians in the band are able to sound like The Smiths and R.E.M. without losing their unique style or falling into the trap of sounding derivative. Meloy has been hinting that the band is going to take a hiatus, which is unfortunate because this Billboard #1 CD is their best effort since The Crane Wife.
The King is Dead
I was not terribly impressed with the musical output from 2009, but after compiling my Top Ten CDs from 2010 I discovered a bunch more that were better than most of last year’s list.
Since I could only offer ten selections for the official KPL Top Ten page, I present ten more great CDs from the past twelve months.
11. Lady Killer by Cee Lo Green
12. Body Talk Pts. 1 & 2 by Robyn
13. Adrift by The Red Sea Pedestrians
14. Majesty Shredding by Superchunk
15. Of The Blue Colour of the Sky by OK Go
16. The Guitar Song by Jamey Johnson
17. Transference by Spoon
18. I Learned the Hard Way by Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings
19. Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine by Various
20. Maya by M.I.A.
I have attended many concerts but there are still a few bands that are on my “must see before I die” list. When the Canadian power pob collective, The New Pornographers announced they were going to play at Calvin College in Grand Rapids on October 15, I was thrilled. It seems that some indivduals were not as happy as I was because the show was canceled because “to some, (the band's name) is mistakenly associated with pornography. Consequently, Calvin, to some, was mistakenly associated with pornography. Neither the college nor the band endorses pornography.”
By rescinding the invitation to the band, Calvin earned a storm of negative media attention (Pitchfork, The Huffington Post, Christianity Today, and Chronicle of Higher Education) with many criticizing the college for not understanding the irony behind the band's name. Luckily, the band was able to find a new location for their show and I will be able to cross them of of my list.
In the meantime join me in “freeing” The New Pornographers from the shackles of shackles of censorship and close-mindedness by checking out one of their most excellent CDs from KPL. Their newest Together is filled with great hooks, melodies, and lyrics that you come to expect from this great band.
One of the founding fathers of power pop, Alex Chilton died on March 17 of a heart attack in New Orleans. Chilton has been cited by many as one of the most influential musicians of the 20th Century.
He began his career as the 16-year-old lead singer of the Box Tops, a late 60’s “boy band” who first hit the charts with the song “The Letter” (1967). Chilton had felt the music industry exploited the Box Tops and eventually the band broke up in 1970. Soon he found his way to Memphis and hooked up with Chris Bell, Jody Stephens, and Andy Hummel to form Big Star. Although Big Star never achieved much commercial success, their sound which combined equal parts Memphis soul and British Invasion pop sparked a power pop movement that inspired musicians such as R.E.M., The Replacements, The Posies, Matthew Sweet, Teenage Fanclub, Cheap Trick and The Bangles.
Chilton was immortalized in the song “Alex Chilton” by The Replacements on their 1987 album Pleased to Meet Me. After recording three albums (1971-1974) Big Star disbanded and Alex Chilton went on to record many solo records. He briefly reunited with both the Box Tops (1989) and Big Star (1993). Chilton will live on as a talent who helped define a musical genre that continues to inspire.
When people ask how long my morning drive to work is, I often say "about three songs." This got me thinking about what others might hear when they commute to work each morning. So I asked a few friends to begin posting on Twitter the first three songs they hear every morning on shuffle. If you are someone who uses Twitter and loves music, post your what you hear using the #1st3shuffle hash tag.
The second track this morning on my iPod was "Seaweed Song" by Passion Pit. This Boston electronic band’s debut release, “Manners” was one of my top ten from last year. Passion Pit was originally a solo project of Michael Angelakos while a student at Emerson College. He wanted to create a musical Valentine for his girlfriend and produced an EP on his laptop. The effort led to the formation of a band and one of the best dance CDs of the year. Listening to the infectious beats of Passion Pit combined with a few cups of coffee always seems to get me ready for work.
As a senior in high school I heard a cover of Madonna ’s “Like A Prayer” by the singer John Wesley Harding and was immediately hooked by his version of folk, or as he sometimes calls it “gangsta folk.” I immediately dived into Harding’s catalog and discovered a plethora of brilliant songs that were intelligent, witty, tender, historical and sardonic. In college, I was fortunate to see him live and experienced not just a concert, but what felt like a dialogue between Harding and me. I scraped up the money to purchase a concert shirt (I still have it) and that summer my future wife approached me while I was wearing it because she was also a fan.
Throughout the years I have traced the path of who I consider one of the most underrated musicians of the past 20 years. I have read the two fabulous novels he has written under his real name, Wesley Stace, and purchased every new CD. Imagine my surprise when he agreed to participate in our long running concert series and speak about his books the following night.
I encourage you to come to hear Wes speak about his music and books on February 17 and 18 . You will discover an extremely talented musician who has shared the stage with such greats as Bruce Springsteen and has been praised by literary critics for his writing. Space is limited at both FREE events, so come early.
Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead
Robert Schneider, of the super-awesome indie rock group The Apples in Stereo, is the mastermind behind the best kids CD of 2009, Robbert Bobbert and the Bubble Machine. Schneider’s kid-friendly alter-ego, Professor Robbert Bobbert is a self-proclaimed “Genius inventor of musical mayhem.” Fans of Schneider’s work will love this CD because they will immediately hear the hooks and harmonies that make The Apples in Stereo great. The end result of this power pop infused kids’ CD is a car trip that won’t turn your brain into elephant droppings.
The stand out track “We R Super Heroes” is about the dream most kids have about being a super hero. Check out the video.
Robbert Bobbert and the Bubble Machine
In the early 1970's, three African-American R&B musicians from Detroit transformed their sound after being inspired by local musicians, Alice Cooper, the Stooges and MC5. The trio called themselves Death, which did not sit well with the Columbia Records executive who funded their first recording session in 1974. The unwillingness to change their name was literally the "Death" of the band and their debut record was never released commercially.
Music critics have hailed Death as being "visionaries" in the punk movement. Their sound straddles the line between punk, funk, and arena rock. Death could have been playing to sold out shows at Cobo Hall, but instead ended up being a footnote in the history of Detroit music.
The Drag City label has rescued the never released record For the Whole World to See for fans of the early punk sound. Check out this Motor City band who was way ahead of their time and should be considered a catalyst for punk music in America.
For the Whole World to See
The recent death of Michael Jackson of a reported heart attack at the age of 50 will undoubtedly cause a storm of crazy stories about his life. Before we are drowning in such tales, I wanted to reflect upon one of the greatest albums of all time, Thriller. No matter how you felt about R&B at the time this album was released, you became a convert to Jackson's ability to bring together that style of music with rock, pop, dance and soul. Jackson was one of the artist who ushered in a new age in music in which artists did not feel confined to a particular style. Others were allowing other types of music to creep into their songs, but the infectious grooves of Thriller blasted through the standard conventions.
I was into roller skating when Thriller was released and I cannot remember a skating session that did not include four to five tracks from the album. Can you honestly say there is a weak song? Even today when most look through their music collection they may have only one R&B record and chances are it is Thriller. Last year I played some tracks for my daughters and they were mesmerized.
What were you doing in your life when Thriller was released? Rest in peace King of Pop and thanks for the music.
Franz Ferdinand: Tonight is the third release from the Scottish alt-rockers and is a slight departure from their previous CDs which established them as one of the up and coming indie acts. You will still find some tracks that will remind you of their previous efforts but you will also find some disco-dance-infused tracks that are a pleasant surprise. Take Tonight out and turn it up because it is best listened to in the car on a weekend night! If you have seen the new iPod commercial you may have already heard "No You Girls." Other standout tracks include "Lucid Dreams" and "Ulysses."
Franz Ferdinand: Tonight
Every year Young Adult author, David Levithan (Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist) asks his friends to list their favorite music (CDs and songs) of the previous year. I truly enjoy the list because someone always mentions something I missed. The winner in 2008 was the debut by Vampire Weekend. The Top Ten also included Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, Sigur Ros, and Portishead. Since it is the 10th Anniversary of the "David Music Poll" he asked each of us to also list our Top Ten in the past ten years. Check out all the selections at the David Music Poll Blog. Scroll to the bottom to find my selections.
I apologize for taking so long to post the final four of my Top Ten CDs of 2008. Since my last installment I was thrilled to discover that two of my colleagues blogged about two other fabulous CDs from 2008 that did not crack my list, Fleet Foxes and TV on the Radio. Other CDs worth checking out from 2008 include efforts from She & Him, Bob Dylan, Conor Oberst, Cut Copy, Girl Talk and The Hold Steady.
4. Blitzen Trapper, Furr – The best “campfire” CD of the year. This Portland, Oregon band spins yarns of men turning into wolves and serial killers with music reminiscent of Neil Young recording with the guys from Elephant Six. This is music that could quite possibly define the sound of the early 21st century. Best Tracks – “Sleepytime in the Western World,” “Gold for Bread,” “Furr,” “Black River Killer,” “War on Machines”
3. Flight of the Conchords, Flight of the Conchords – How could you not love a duo that calls themselves the, "4th most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo" in New Zealand? Bret McKenzie and Jermaine Clement are not only hilarious but also very talented musicians and songwriters. On their debut CD they pay homage to Marvin Gaye, Pet Shop Boys, Radiohead, and David Bowie without becoming carbon copies. Best Tracks – “Inner City Pressure,” “Think About It,” “Robots,” “The Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room),” “Business Time”
2. Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend – Early in 2008, the debut full-length CD from this preppy band from New York City was on the verge of being over-hyped. I jumped on the wagon early and never found a reason to jump off. This CD has the feel of early Police with a flavor of Paul Simon’s Graceland which many of the critics called “Afro-pop.” The lyrics are smart and the tunes are filled with exuberant hooks that will keep you bouncing in your seat for days. A CD destined to become a classic. Best Tracks – “Oxford Comma,” “A-Punk,” “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” “M79,” “Campus,” “One (Blake’s Got a New Face),” “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance”
1. Los Campesinos! – Hold on Now, Youngster… - My personal favorite CD of 2008 is ironically a CD that I totally missed ordering for the collection (don’t worry it is now on order). The band’s moniker is Spanish for “the farmers” or “the peasants” but they possess a sound that is more fitting for a spastic indie-punk party than a simple, backwoods music circle. It is tough to pinpoint their sound, but I have tried by saying that if you put The New Pornographers, Art Brut, The Decemberists and Architecture in Helsinki in a blender you would get a sound similar to this seven piece band from Wales. It is almost cliché to say that a band is “hyper-literate” but it is a description, along with hilarious, energetic, and talented, that best fits Los Campesinos! Check them out for yourself on February 10th in Grand Rapids. Best Tracks – “Broken Heartbeats Sound Like Breakbeats,” “Death to Los Campesinos!,” “Don’t Tell Me to Do the Math(s),” “You! Me! Dancing!,” “..And We Exhale and Roll Our Eyes in Unison”
I look forward to the music coming in 2009 and your comments about my list!
Hold on Now, Youngster...
I've been collecting "Best of 2008" music lists from various magazines including Rolling Stone, Paste Magazine, Spin, and Entertainment Weekly over the past couple of weeks to see how my list compares. The one CD that has been on most Top Ten lists, but not on mine, is TV on the Radio's Dear Science. So I decided to give it another listen and although the album is beginning to grow on me it still would not make my Top Ten.
7. The Mountain Goats, Heretic Pride - John Darnielle is one of the best songwriters in music. He consistently crafts songs about characters struggling with very heavy topics. This CD takes a look at religion. Best Tracks - "Sax Rohmer #1," "San Bernardino," "Lovecraft in Brooklyn"
6. Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago - Justin Vernon spent a winter in Wisconsin, holed up in a cabin to record this amazing debut CD. His voice sounds like a blustery wind and his lyrics stir up feelings of a broken world. Best Tracks - "Skinny Love," "Flume," "The Wolves (Act I and II)"
5. Nada Surf, Lucky - For most of the year I was claiming that the newest CD from the NYC trio was my very favorite. At first I didn't think it was anything special, but the more it kept popping up on the iPod, the more I became a believer. Lucky is filled with catchy power pop, perfect for the weekend. Best Tracks - "I Like What You Say," "See These Bones," "Beautiful Beat," "Weightless"
I am a music junkie. This past year I was forced to purchase a 500 GB external hard drive to store the thousands of CDs in my collection. Over the past 12 months, I have listened to over 160 CDs. It was tough, but I have whittled that list down to my Top Ten CDs of 2008.
The year 2008 was a strange year for music. Overall it was much weaker than 2007 but filled with strong debut efforts. Below are three that occupy the bottom of the list.
10. R.E.M., Accelerate - After the three previous less than mediocre CDs, Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, and Mike Mills came close to reclaiming their title as indie rock Kings. Best Tracks: "Supernatural Superserious," "Mr. Richards," "I'm Going to D.J."
9. Kaiser Chiefs, Off With Their Heads - The third CD from this band from Leeds, England is Brit pop at its finest. Grammy winning producer Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen) has helped the boys craft a winner. Best Tracks: "Never Miss A Beat," "Addicted to Drugs," "Good Days, Bad Days"
8. Ra Ra Riot, The Rhumb Line - What happens when you add a string section to a indie pop band? In the case of Ra Ra Riot you get pretty sweet music filled with intelligent lyrics. Tragically the original drummer of the band died while working on this record. This is the first of five debut CDs in the Top Ten. Best Tracks: "Dying is Fine," "Can You Tell," "Ghost Under Rocks"
The Rhumb Line
The best CD of 2006 in my humble opinion was a British-folk, prog-rock inspired album from the Portland based band The Decemberists. The Crane Wife is filled with songs about Japanese folk tales, murderous tales, Romeo and Juliet type romances, and a criminal committing the perfect crime. The band, who often dresses in period clothing will be performing in East Lansing this Wednesday. They were at the top of my "most favorite band, but never seen live" list.
The Crane Wife
The lo-fi indie rock duo of American Alison "VV" Mosshart and Brit Jamie "Hotel" Hince came together to form the band known as The Kills after striking up a long distance songwriting partnership. Mosshart heard Hince practicing his guitar in the a hotel room and decided to start sending him songs via air mail. Their previous release, No Wow (2005), was recorded in Benton Harbor at the Keyclub Recording Company and a couple of the songs referenced West Michigan in the lyrics. The band returned to the Keyclub in 2007 to work on their latest CD Midnight Boom, a record filled with a minimalist sound that is both trashy and catchy. You will find yourself bobbing your head and dancing to the contagious beats on this CD. Hince's raw guitar playing is the perfect complement to Mosshart's sassy vocals. The Kills are another great rock duo with ties to Michigan, but one who doesn't only dress in three colors.
Do not miss singer Rachael Davis in the Van Deusen at Central, tomorrow at 7:00 pm. Rachael is a critically-acclaimed performer who has opened for such artist as Josh Ritter and Dar Williams. In 2006 Rachael collaborated with the Steppin' In It to produce the CD, Shout Sister Shout, a recording inspired by the jazz of the 1930's and 40's. It will be another amazing acoustic show in our very popular series.
The State Theater has announced that the alt-folk duo the Indigo Girls will be performing with special guest Kathleen Edwards on Saturday October 4th! The Indigo Girls have been making music for over 20 years singing about topics ranging from immigration to the environment. They do not pull punches. Canada's Kathleen Edwards newest release Asking for Flowers is an alt-country smash filled with honest songs about the state of the world. This should be a great show!
Asking for Flowers
A few years ago author David Levithan introduced me to the Swedish indie-pop musician Jens Lekman (pronounced "Yens") and since then I have been a BIG fan. Depending heavily on samples and strings, Lekman crafts whimsical and often hilarious lyrics about cab rides, cutting your finger off while slicing avocados, and playing Bingo on a Friday night. The newest CD, Night Falls Over Kortedala, is filled with perfect pop gems. Discover for yourself why he has been called a happier version of Morrissey!
Night Falls Over Kortedala
British Sea Power is a quartet from Brighton, England who have been compared to both Joy Division and Arcade Fire. What they have in common with the both bands is a moody and sweeping sound that is best listened to on full volume. Their most recent release Do You Like Rock Music? could be the soundtrack for a rousing invasion of a land in need of some uplifting. Check out these literate indie boys if you are in need of some musical theatrics.
Do You Like Rick Music?
One of the best concerts I attended last year was The Avett Brothers show at The Ark in Ann Arbor. This trio performs a unique blend of country/rock/folk, which some critics have called "cowpunk." Their most recent CD, Emotionalism is a slight departure from their previous efforts and is filled with tracks that tend to move away from the "punk" and more towards the folk. I was blown away at the band's ability to elicit a vast array of emotions from a banjo, guitar and stand-up bass. The crowd at the concert rarely sat down. The Avett Brothers are one of the finest alternative country acts touring today. If you have an opportunity to see a show, do not pass it up.
Last night, 96 fans of old old-time country swing and blues were lucky enough to catch a free concert from the Lansing-based band Steppin' In It. The band performed many songs from the newest CD Simple Tunes for Troubled Times to a very energetic crowd seated in a circle around the stage. Between tunes the band discussed their instruments, the stories behind the songs and answered questions. The Van Deusen Room was swinging especially when the guys brought out the trumpet and trombone!
By kind permission of the band, here are a few clips from the show... "Break of Day," Give My Regards to Miss Moline," and "Gold and Silver."
The show was the first in a series of concerts each month this summer. Don't miss the Pacifica Quartet on July 8th and Rachael Davis on August 12th.
At first the new CD by the New York City based, Nada Surf did not thrill me. Tracks from their fifth studio release Lucky kept playing when the iPod was on shuffle and I finally realized what I was missing, an awesome effort. The alt-trio best known for the MTV hit "Popular" in 1996 have released a power pop CD celebrating their ability to keep making music in today's industry. I dare any of you to play this at your next summer outing and not smile.
Will history prove that Nada Surf will be more than a one hit wonder or will new listeners find themselves "Lucky" enough to see beyond that "Popular" track? Check out Lucky and judge for yourself.