Staff Picks: Music

The Pumpkins Aren’t Just for Smashing Anymore

When a friend recently told me that he had some free tickets to see The Smashing Pumpkins at the Palace of Auburn Hills and asked if I wanted to go, my first response was "meh."  I love going to concerts, don't get me wrong, but I'm not a big fan of arena shows.  I'm more of a small-to-midsized venue kind of guy; I frequent the Orbit Room and the Intersection in Grand Rapids, for example.  Frankly, there aren't a lot of artists for whom I'm willing to make the long hike to Detroit or Chicago.  And while the Pumpkins were a band I enjoyed during my high school and college years, they haven't exactly done anything that I've cared about for a long, long time.  But my wife convinced me that it would be a fun night, so I acquiesced, and we went with my buddy to see the show.

Now, I'm the kind of guy who has more fun at concerts if I know the music, so I checked out their recent set lists online and discovered that they were starting their recent shows by playing their new album, Oceania, in its entirety from start to finish, followed by selections from the rest of their canon.  I hadn't heard anything off the new album apart from first single "The Celestials."  But not wanting to sit through an hour-and-a-half of music that I wasn't familiar with, I checked out Oceania from this very institution, and set about listening to it repeatedly over the next two days leading up to the concert.

I went in with low expectations; Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness were quintessential 90s masterpieces, but I never got much out of 1998's Adore or 2000's Machina/The Machines of God.  And following those releases, years of clashing egos, infighting, rotating membership, and the overall decline of sales ended up tearing the band apart.  And had that been the end of the chapter, the Pumpkins would have probably been remembered fondly as a band that burned bright and hot and quickly-one that left its mark on music history.  But front man (and driving creative force) Billy Corgan, a notoriously temperamental and grandiose personality, spent the next decade making it hard to love the Pumpkins.  He'd swear off the band and then reform with different members; he'd verbally attack old band mates in the press; he be dismissive of his audience in interviews; he even swore off making albums ever again, having declared it a "dead" format (he claims Oceania is merely a chunk of a planned 44-song cycle that is to be released as individual singles over a span of many years).  It became hard for a fan to separate the Pumpkins name with the megalomania of Corgan.  Much of this could have been forgiven if, say, any of the music that had trickled out over the years had been engrossing.

So it was to my surprise that, after a few listens, Oceania grew on me (the album is pronounced "oh-see-AN-ee-ya, not "o-SHUN-ee-ya" or how "ya'll pronounce it up here" as Corgan scolded at the show; I'm not entirely certain what Corgan meant by "up here," considering Detroit is not that much farther north latitudinally than his hometown of Chicago).  There are several standout songs, my favorites being "Panopticon," "My Love Is Winter," "Pinwheels," and "Glissandra."  The song titles and lyrics may be pretentious, but the music is energetic and, at times, ethereal.  It's easily the Pumpkins' most cohesive and satisfying effort since the late 90s.  And while Corgan seems to remain as frustrating and self-indulgent as ever, if he keeps creating music like he's done with Oceania, perhaps he can also make The Smashing Pumpkins relevant again.

Music

Oceania
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DanHoag

Bargains from the Basement: Week 4

This week’s Friends Find was yet another tasty pair of audio CDs… this time from Little Feat. One of my biggest regrets (a nicer way of saying screw-up) was that I never saw Little Feat while Lowell George was alive. I had my chance when they played in Grand Rapids in 1978, but (for whatever reason) I missed that opportunity. Sad. Nonetheless, Feat have amassed an impressive body of recorded work—both with Lowell during the 1970s and during the band’s current “era” beginning in the 1990s—so there’s plenty of good listening available to help make up for my awful misfortune (feel sorry for me yet? …didn’t think so… ah, but such is life).

Anyway, the first find is Ripe Tomatos, a two disc compilation culled from rare live recordings made at both ends of Feat’s journey. Recently unearthed recordings from way back in ’71 and ’72, sweet acoustic performances two decades later, and more— two-and-a-half hours of ripe tomato-y bliss. The second set, Chinese Work Songs, was Feat’s first studio recording of the new millennium—thirty years after the first Little Feat record. (The liner notes tell us, “…it wasn’t made in china, it was recorded at a few places, but china ain’t one of them…”) Compositions penned by Robbie Robertson (The Band), Billy Payne, Paul Barrère, Trey Anastasio (Phish), Bob Dylan, and others are given the treatment as only this band can. Both sets are worthy and welcome additions to the li'l ol’ collection. Feats (and Friends) don’t fail me now.


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Consider this little series my own version of “Flea Market Finds,” an ongoing report of the latest bargains unearthed in the lower level of Central Library. What a treasure we have (quite literally) in the Friends Bookstore. When you can grab high quality books, music, and movies for little more than pocket change, life is good. And all the proceeds go to a great cause, too. So shop often; you never know what you’ll find. And stay tuned… I’ll let you know what I find!

Book

Little Feat
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Keith_1

Grizzly Bear's Shields

The Brooklyn-based band Grizzly Bear began as a throwaway creative project for singer/guitarist Ed Droste who simply wanted to provide a name to his home recordings and musical tinkering. By 2004, a full fledge touring band had emerged, garnering positive reviews and fans alike. Combining electronic ambience with catchy and melodic folk pop that echoes a wide net of influences and sounds, their newest album Shields, is their most mature and complicated work to date. Songs are reverb-filled with everything but the kitchen sink layering of synthesizers, piano, banjo, acoustic/electric guitar, distorted drums and coupled with dreamy, hypnotic vocals. Arty noise as filtered through infectious pop songs would be an apt description of Grizzly Bear’s sonic vision. Stand out tracks include Sleeping Ute,Half Gate and Yet Again.

Music

Shields
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RyanG

The Comeback Album of 2012

Even the most diehard music aficionados probably couldn’t tell you who Bill Fay was up until a month ago (I certainly couldn’t), before he and his music began to pop up in places like Mojo Magazine and NPR. Fay is a British singer-songwriter who comes from a long and storied list of forgotten or historically marginalized musicians whose little known work grew out of the legitimating influence of the artist appreciation network. This is how it works: the cult legend finds a famous rock-star like Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy (Tweedy has covered Fay’s songs in the past) to provide you a song of his own that you can cover (Jesus Etc.) and duet with him on your long awaited, comeback album. Your street cred will blow up and your Youtube hits will soar because of everyone wanting to go back in time (or at least to the internet) to listen to all of those great songs that you wrote that everyone had originally forsaken at the time of their release.

Fay’s early 70’s albums sound eerily like a melodic fusion of Dylan (if he played piano) and Wilco’s more plaintive tunes. They tend to be somewhat downbeat and often echo the sound of a lost but brilliant soul trying to stay true to his art while the music industry closes its door on his vision. Fay’s new album Life is People is worth a listen and has a much more upbeat vibe to it than his brooding material from long ago. Here is Fay's heartbreaking rendition of the Wilco song.

Book

Life is people
bill-fay-cover
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RyanG

Bargains from the Basement: Week 3

Some recording artists are perfectly at home in the studio, while others are best known for their work on the concert stage. The Dave Matthews Band it seems is both. This week’s fortunate Friends Find is another sweet pair… two double live sets from the Dave Matthews Band, both recorded during the band’s 2010 summer tour. Live in New York City finds the band at Citi Field in Flushing, NY, on July 17th, while the other documents the final show of the tour two months later on September 18th at Chicago’s historic Wrigley Field. Both are superbly recorded and the performances are exceptional. 5 hours of great music for six bucks… how could I go wrong? It’s good to have Friends!


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Consider this little series my own version of “Flea Market Finds,” an ongoing report of the latest bargains unearthed in the lower level of Central Library. What a treasure we have (quite literally) in the Friends Bookstore. When you can grab high quality books, music, and movies for little more than pocket change, life is good. And all the proceeds go to a great cause, too. So shop often; you never know what you’ll find. And stay tuned… I’ll let you know what I find!

Book

Dave Matthews Band
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Keith_1

Bargains from the Basement: Week 2

Buddy Guy and Junior Wells toured and recorded together for decades, but this week’s edition of Friends Finds consists of two separate recordings by these blues legends. Recorded in 2001 at the age of 65, Buddy Guy’s Sweet Tea is fresh and raw, arguably one of the most immediate recording he’s made thus far. (Now 76, he’s still at it.) Its uncluttered North Mississippi sound places Guy’s guitar right up front where it belongs. Guy himself says, “That’s the way music was before it got too much tech and too many people.” Amen.

On the other hand, if we rewind back some three-and-a-half decades before Sweet Tea, we find the late Junior Wells and his band introducing their blend of blues and R&B to enthusiastic (and for the first time, predominantly white) audiences. Recorded just months after his debut, Hoodoo Man Blues, and released in 2010, Live in Boston 1966 is as authentic a piece of Chicago blues history as you’ll find. At a mere buck apiece, I snapped up both of these gems without hesitation.


friends-logo-50.jpg

Consider this little series the KPL equivalent of “Flea Market Finds,” an ongoing report of the latest bargains unearthed in the lower level of Central Library. What a treasure we have (quite literally) in the Friends Bookstore. When you can grab high quality books, music, and movies for little more than pocket change, life is good. And all the proceeds go to a great cause, too. So shop often; you never know what you’ll find. And stay tuned… I’ll let you know what I find!

Book

Buddy Guy and Junior Wells
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/friends/bookstore/
Keith_1

Bargains from the Basement: Week 1

Richie Furay’s 2006 release, The Heartbeat of Love, was this week’s worthwhile find at the Friends Bookstore. Ten tunes written by Richie and Scott Sellen, plus two old Poco standbys, performed with help from a bunch of familiar friends; Timothy B. Schmidt, Neil Young, Kenny Loggins, Paul Cotton, Sam Bush, Stephen Stills, and others. No new musical territory here; just a worthwhile batch of nicely executed Southern California country rock tunes. If you ever spin the likes of Poco, Buffalo Springfield, Eagles, or Loggins & Messina, this would fit right in. And it even came packaged in a nifty hardbound mini-book – definitely a worthwhile find!


friends-logo-50.jpg

Consider this little series the KPL equivalent of “Flea Market Finds,” an ongoing report of the latest bargains unearthed in the lower level of Central Library. What a treasure we have (quite literally) in the Friends Bookstore. When you can grab high quality books, music, and movies for little more than pocket change, life is good. And all the proceeds go to a great cause, too. So shop often; you never know what you’ll find. And stay tuned… I’ll let you know what I find!

Book

Heartbeat of Love
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http://www.richiefuray.com/album/heartbeat-of-love/
Keith_1

Dive Into Oshin

If you love a good, bright melody like I do, check out the band Diiv’s new album titled Oshin. The vocals and lyrics are intentionally opaque and buried below the shimmering mix of reverb-doused guitar. This allows for the blossoming of these glistening, dream pop songs to unfold and unfold they do with hypnotic success. Oshin will be on my end of year list of the best music of 2012. Sounds Like: Real Estate, The Cure, War on Drugs, and Tristeza.

Music

Oshin
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RyanG